By Glenn Lines, Chief of Party of the Forest Incomes for Environmental Sustainability (FIFES) Activity
Liberia holds the last large blocks of rainforests remaining in West Africa. Despite being home to two-thirds of those remaining blocks, Liberia and its communities who depend on rainforests to survive face the urgent threats of climate change, deforestation, and rural poverty.
Previous global development programs implemented by ACDI/VOCA and other organizations first established community forestry in Liberia. Since then, the five-and-a-half-year, US$16.8-million Forest Incomes for Environmental Sustainability (FIFES) Activity, funded by the United States Agency for International Development and implemented by ACDI/VOCA, has built on efforts to protect forests and expand the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities.
The FIFES Activity achieved this by supporting 11 community forests in Grand Bassa and Nimba counties. Its activities helped local governance structures — made up of elected persons from communities surrounding each forest — improve their ability to sustainably manage forests, develop forest-based businesses, and establish long-term technical and commercial partnerships.
Today, the Liberian government officially recognizes community forests and the governance structures that manage them: Executive Committees, Community Assemblies, and Community Forest Management Bodies (CFMBs). Beginning in 2015, the FIFES Activity has been helping CFMBs acquire the knowledge and skills needed to take advantage of social and economic incentives for embracing sustainability as a way of life.
The FIFES Activity engaged directly with CFMBs to promote new behaviors and help them launch their own enterprises based on business models that align with sustainable forestry. Some CFMBs signed contracts with private sector companies for sustainable timber extraction. Others started their own businesses to sustainably harvest non-timber products, which promoted agroforestry standards in community forest buffer zones. Along with the support of CFMBs, the FIFES Activity helped 132 enterprise groups made up of 1,402 members, including 598 women, expand sustainable production and increase their revenues by 697.6 percent. The FIFES Activity also helped create 157 Women Owning Resources Together (WORTH) savings groups with 3,310 female and 615 male members. Members acquired fundamental reading, writing, accounting, and savings and loan skills that allowed them access credit through collective saving. Together, they built up and maintained a group savings fund of LRD 225,510,535, from which they provided 304 loans to members in an amount of LRD 7,369,956 with 20 percent interest to help sustain the fund.
As the FIFES Activity comes to an end in March 2021, the new standards adopted for community forests will remain thanks to the CFMBs. To ensure their sustainability, the FIFES Activity established three CFMB Hubs. Each Hub coordinates with other CFMBs and smallholder farmers in its geographic area to help them boost their productivity, capitalize on diverse income stream opportunities, and connect with commercial markets. In return for these services, participating CFMBs and communities agree to abandon destructive land practices.
This model serves the government’s interests because it lowers the cost of enforcing resource use regulations. It also strengthens the relationship between the Forest Development Authority and CFMBs, creating a collegial setting for better community forest management. The result is a breakdown of the old paradigm, in which policymaking in Liberia did not fully incorporate the views of forest-dwelling and indigenous groups.
Through the Hub model, community forests supported by the FIFES Activity have begun to thrive; reviewed and revised Community Forest Management Plans implemented by the CFMBs are generating increased economic benefit for local stakeholders, enhanced biodiversity monitoring and improved natural resource conservation. The fight for sustainable forestry may continue for years or even decades. But partnerships established in these communities will help ensure that sustainable practices are managed locally long after the FIFES Activity comes to an end.
This article is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of ACDI/VOCA and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.