A recent one-day brainstorming county forest dialogue among representatives of communities, companies, local and national government officials ended in Gbarnga City, Bong County, with key recommendations crafted, scrutinized and made for reforms in the forest sector.
The dialogue, which was organized by the National Union of Community Forestry Development Committee (NUCFDC), the National Union of Community Forest Management Body (NUCFMB) and Liberia Timber Association (LTA) was held on August 29, 2019.
The Gbarnga gathering was phase one of the series of dialogues, and brought together over sixty participants from Lofa, Nimba, Grand Cape Mount and Gbarpolu counties, with funding support from the European Union (EU).
Phase two of the dialogue is expected to take place in Greenville, Sinoe County in September 2019.
The dialogue was held under the theme, “Bringing together communities, companies, local and national leaders face-to-face for sustainable and productive forest management.”
A carefully worded statement pointed out that issues discussed included roles and responsibilities of key forest stakeholders, benefit sharing mechanisms of forest resources, dispute prevention and resolution mechanisms in forest governance and experience sharing in noncompliance, interference and illegal logging.
At the end of the daylong dialogue, participants advanced several key recommendations for consideration to improve existing laws, regulations, policies, agreements and operations of forest structures (CFDCs/CFMBs) and companies.
Key recommendations included intensive public outreach and awareness campaign among community members, stronger collaboration among key forest stakeholders in making sure communities and counties access their land rental fees (30% each), involvement of legal groups in drafting and signing of Social Agreements.
Others were the need for FDA to assess the capacities of companies before granting them concession rights; FDA should conduct boundary harmonization of adjacent communities before forest demarcation so as to avoid conflict; legislators should refrain from owning logging companies as they are seen influencing community’s decisions in selecting companies to manage their forests.
Besides, FDA should increase its monitoring activities in the forests.
Making specific references to experience sharing, participants indicated that most companies rely on FDA’s assessment reports instead of conducting theirs which, according to them, does not take into consideration several key things such as proper boundary harmonization.
The Gbarnga forest dialogue participants cited specific instances such as the conflict in Lofa and Gbarpolu counties, in Northwestern Liberia.
Participants, mainly from LTA, declared and claimed that FDA has never done due diligence beyond financial capability of companies while bidding for forest contracts, adding, FDA is mainly concerned about which company has the financial strength.
At the same time, it was observed that community structures and government entities working in the forestry sector are highly dependent on companies for support outside of the scope of the contract.
The Secretariat of the National Benefits Sharing Trust Board (NBSTB) reported having little or no activity due to lack of operational funds to run the secretariat.
They also claimed that some communities are not properly accounting for funds entrusted to them, and are in a constant habit of changing project scopes and designs without coming back to the drawing board.
Following NBSTB’s revelation, the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) revealed that payment of taxes and other forest revenues trees harvested in the Liberian forests have been current since 2016, a revelation that shocked participants, particularly the communities.
Community members however explained that the lack of a community management plan remains a major challenge for them in meeting community development goals.
The county forest dialogue was organized with support from the European Union Non-State Actors (EU-NSA) project, “Strengthening the capacity of non-state actors to improve FLEGT-VPA and REDD+ processes in Western Africa.”
The EU-NSA project is being implemented since 2016 in Ghana, Ivory Coast and Liberia.
The Liberian component is implemented by Volunteers to Support International Efforts in Developing Africa (VOSIEDA in partnership with Tropenbos International (TBI).