Citizens of Rivercess County say they appreciate the establishment of the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) between the Liberian government and the European Union (EU) that allows logs harvested from Liberian forests to be tracked and certificated before being exported to any country in the world.
The citizens expressed the gratitude during a visit by EU Ambassador Tiina Intelmann, her entourage and representatives of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) to Yarkpah Town on April 4.
Liberia, represented by the FDA, and the EU began negotiating the VPA between 2009 and 2011; the EU ratified it in 2012, Liberia in 2013.
In addition to the framework that allows only legally certificated logs to be exported from Liberia to the EU market and other parts of the world, forest communities will get 30 percent of proceeds under a benefit sharing scheme.
Under the National Benefit Sharing Trust in the National Forestry Reform Law, the first US$1 million has been paid into the trust fund, from which citizens of Yarkpah Town erected a vocational training center at a cost of US$46,000.
“We are thankful to God for this process that has led to having this structure we are building today. Our children are at the gold mine, while others are on motorbikes without thinking about a livelihood trade that will have a long term benefit for them. When we got this money, we sat and discussed what to do with it. Some suggested a school, clinic, vocational school, and we all agreed by voting to have a vocational school. We are happy for what we are receiving from our forest now, unlike in the past when trees were cut and we had no benefits,” Julia Sando, a member of the project committee, said.
Digressing from the time when residents were told instead of asked what they want to benefit from their forests, citizens of Yarkpa Town sat with the FDA management and partners and discussed what would best benefit their communities.
Matthew Walley, Chairman of Community Forestry Development Committee, said, “The money building this structure came from the Benefit Sharing Trust Fund. Its benefits will come over 25 years in accordance with the existing life-span of companies in our forests, and we are quite sure that the benefits, including funding from other sources in the county development fund, will help to facilitate the sustenance of the project.”
“We are happy with this project. This is what we expected to happen long ago, but it did not happen. As the case is now, we think there will be something to show for what leaves our community,” added resident Augustus F. Kwalah.
Despite being lucrative business ideas, parents do not want their children being commercial bike riders or gold miners because of the psychosocial and physical scars these businesses leave on the youth.
“We are happy about this project because our children have to learn too. We hope they will hear us and make the best use of this facility and stop giving too much preference to gold mining and motorbike riding that has left marks on them,” Melvina Kerkulah said.
The Chairman of Community Forestry Development Committee, Mr. Walley, said they expect the project to be completed by July this year.
For her part, Ambassador Intelmann informed the people of Rivercess that the EU and Liberia signed the VPA to foster a legal framework that will enable community members to benefit from their forest resources and the sustenance of the forest itself.
The FDA Managing Director-designate, Darlington Tuagbean, said the government through the FDA is committed to the people.
He said the vocational training center is one of the many tangibles for forest owning communities.
He lauded the EU for support to the forestry sector and community members, as well as for their support in the implementation of the VPA.