In order to ensure that issues affecting forest communities are adequately addressed in national and local decision making processes, the National Union of Community Forestry Development Committee (NUCFDC) recently convened a work day inception workshop for 28 Communities Forest Development Committees (CFDC) drawn from 10 of the 15 counties of Liberia.
NUCFDC is the umbrella organization of CFDC groups with the mandate to ensure that forest communities benefit from resources received from concessions.
The workshop, held in Paynesville, aimed to educate the various CFDC groups about a one year project, ‘Sustaining Gains and Improving Community Capacity to Monitor and Properly Manage Benefits from Commercial Logging.
The project is implemented by NUCFDC with support from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
It intends to increase communities’ participation in monitoring the benefits received from commercial logging.
According to NUCFDC, the project targets 11 CFDC in four forest management contract areas within eight counties including Lofa, Gbarpolu, Nimba, Grand Gedeh, Sinoe, River Gee, Grand Kru and Maryland, respectively.
It can be recalled that NUCFDC in November 2020 signed a US$ 99,745, 00 agreement with FAO to build forest communities’ capacity to monitor the benefit received from concessions.
The agreement is under the framework of the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance, and Trade (FLEGT) Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) signed by the Government of Liberia (GoL) and the European Union (EU) since 2009.
VPA is a legally binding bilateral trade agreement between the EU and timber-producing countries outside the EU, such as Liberia. The purpose of a VPA is to ensure that timber and timber products exported to the EU come from legal sources. The agreement also helps timber-exporting countries to stop illegal logging by improving regulation and governance of the forest sector.
With funding from the EU, the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), UK Government (UKAid) and through the FAO EU-FLEGT Program, the agreement seeks to equip affected communities with skills and tools to be able to monitor the benefits they receive through logging, to communicate and share information on the progress and robustly defend their rights under the VPA Legality Assurance System (LAS).
The head for secretariat at NUCFDC, Andrew Zelemen, informed the participants that since the establishment of his organization, a lot of advocacies have been carried out that have led to concessions committing themselves to the benefit from the forest to develop communities.
“Our work has attracted funding that was directed to developments within forest communities. This is why with this current project we intend to increase the participation of forest communities to ensure that forest resources can greatly benefit the locals,” he told the participants of the workshop.
He said that his organization was able to review social agreements between forest communities and concessions to make sure that more development reaches the people.
“Some of the ways that social agreements were developed make it more difficult for implementation. In order to improve, we started to negotiate for social agreements that are easily achievable,” he stated.
According to him, many of the social agreements developed by concessions lack community involvement, something he stated that they are now ensuring that all social agreements are given considerable time to consult with the community people.
Zelemen stated that the current project is increasing the participation of women in the decision-making processes, renegotiating social agreements that have expired and providing more training to build the capacity of forest communities in motoring the benefits from the forest.
For his part, Jerry G. Yonmah, technical manager at the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), challenged forest community people to become more cautious in negotiating with concessions for the use of the forest.
He stressed the need for members of the forest benefit committee to work collaboratively with the project implemented by NUCFDC for the benefit of their communities.
Meanwhile, Madam Jebbeh E. Quoi, a member of the CFDC from Grand Cape Mount County, told the Daily Observer in an exclusive interview at the end of the workshop that with the level of advocacy being carried out on benefits received from forests, a lot of projects are being implemented in her county.
She said that they were pleased that partners were supporting forest communities to monitor benefits received from concessions.