People, Rules and Organizations Supporting the Protection of Ecosystem Resources (PROSPER) has launched its 4th annual outreach campaign on community forestry under the theme, “Make Community Forestry Rights Real.”
The USAID sponsored project will take the message of community forest governance to communities and sensitize citizens about the significance of protecting the forest and its resources amid threats of global warming and climate change.
PROSPER’s goal in Liberia’s forest management is to introduce, make operational and refine appropriate models for community management of forest resources for local self-governance and enterprise development in targeted areas of the country.
The technical director for Community Forest Department at the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), Gertrude Nyaley, said they have conducted a series of outreach activities in communities that are under the Community Forestry Management program to change poor management behaviors, adding that it has been quite challenging.
Ms. Nyaley explained that awareness is conducted by soliciting the opinions or voices of community members and then engaging them face to face about how to manage their forests to sustainably serve them and preserve wildlife.
A series of outreach programs have been conducted in several communities including Gba, Zor, Sehyi, Blei, Sehzueplay, Boe and Quilla, Kpablee, Gbea-Gblor and Gblor, in Nimba County, and Kplgblen and Barconnie in Grand Bassa County.
Madam Nyaley emphasized that PROSPER and FDA are carrying out the awareness to acquaint community members with the forestry law and benefits these communities will reap as a result of conserving the forests.
Labor Minister Neto Z. Lighe, recalled how vulnerable the forest has been. He noted that as the community forest management awareness is ongoing, all stakeholders must add their voices to provide the understanding forest community dwellers need to be transparent and accountable in its management.
He added that as the FDA, under its statutory mandate, is required to enforce the Community Rights Law, government should liaise with partners to increase support to communities in order for the needed fruits expected from the awareness campaign to be realized.
In his remarks, FDA Managing Director, Harrison S. Karnwea, reiterated that the Liberia’s forests managed by the FDA have three components including Conservation, Commercial and Community Forestry.
He stressed the significance of the Forestry Law and emphasized that all other permits including the controversial Private Use Permit (PUP) have been terminated. Only the Community Rights Law, which allows all negotiations on the use of the forest to involve community members, is recognized.
A representative of PROSPER said besides communities they are currently supporting, the program is contemplating on expanding its activities to 17 additional communities with forests.
The expected communities will include those in Lofa, Gbarpolu and Grand Cape Mount counties.
He stated that they as partners are only providing a “bit of assistance to Liberia,” but Liberians themselves are responsible for developing their own country.
Liberia currently has half of West Africa’s forests, and it is estimated that 45 percent of the forest is still intact while 1.8 percent has suffered deforestation.
Subsistence farming, pit sawing, logging, among other activities carried out in the forest have the propensity to make Liberia vulnerable to climate change and global warming.
Regarding the status of Liberia’s wildlife, community members indiscriminately hunt and kill them in addition to destroying their habitat.
Recent statistics by Fauna and Flora International (FFI) indicate that Liberia’s forest harbors over 2,900 different vascular plants including 225 tree species, 600 bird species, 150 mammal species, and 75 reptile species.
According to FFI, most of the animal species have been threatened by community dwellers as a result of hunting and upland subsistence farming.
Pit sawing and logging activities under the dissolved Private Use Permit also pose dangers to the animals and expose the environment to storm disaster.
Considering these activities and their consequences on the forest and environment, PROSPER and FDA are in partnership to improve human, legal, regulatory and institutional capacities in environmental awareness and wise stewardship of natural resources with the aim of extending community based forest
management as well as community based forestry and agricultural enterprise development throughout Liberia.
The Community Rights Law of 2009 Chapter 3 under “Community Rights and Responsibilities” section 3.1, communities have the right to control the use, protection, management and development of community forest resources under regulations developed by the FDA in consultation with the connected community assembly.
It also gives communities the right to enter into small scale commercial contracts with respect to the harvesting of timbers and non-timber forest products on “Community Forest Lands” under regulations issued by the FDA.
The provision also gives communities the responsibility to manage community forest resources in an environmentally sustainable manner under regulations and guidelines issued by the authority.
Communities also have the responsibility of preparing Community Forest Management Plans in keeping with requirements and specifications contained in regulations and guidelines issued by the authority.