Sustainable Development Initiative (SDI), a forest watchdog that provides updates on the use of Liberia’s forest, has launched a project aimed exclusively at empowering forest community dwellers to be more knowledgeable of the significance of the forests.
At the launch of the US$99,925 project on Thursday, August 16 in Monrovia, under the title, “Strengthening Community Forestry Structures and Their Governance”, Nora Bowier, SDI’s Coordinator, said that the project seeks to enhance community empowerment so that community members can sustainably use their forest to yield the benefits that belong to them.
Ms. Bowier said SDI will ensure that communities possessing forests will be provided technical knowledge and capacity so that they will have the benefit of their forest, and not “business as usual.”
She said as they are set to commence the project, they need support from their partners, including community members, to ensure that the goals and objectives are met in the one-year period the SDI has as the project’s time frame.
The project is funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), European Union, UKAID and Sweden.
Already, the EU is making a huge investment in Liberia’s forest sector under the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA). The VPA seeks to ensure that logs harvested from Liberia’s forest are certificated before leaving for countries within the EU.
Additionally, the EU has negotiated with the Liberian government through the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) to set certain percent of income from logging to affected communities as a benefit to them.
This arrangement has at some points proven successful in the forest county of River Cess, but projects initiated from income from logging in that county are currently stalled due to exhaustion of the fund without accountability.
While performing the launch of the project, Abraham Guillen, VPA Support Unit Team Leader in Liberia, said they are glad to liaise with a non-governmental institution like the SDI for such a project.
Mr. Guillen said it is an essential engagement to make communities know their rights to the forest, and to have some benefits, but it should be done in a sustainable way so that the forest will not be depleted to make Liberia be like other desert countries.
Also, Guillen warned that community dwellers and government should use the forest in a way to discourage illegal logging activities.
A representative of the EU at the launch, David Palacio, said that it is premature to be happy at the beginning of the launch.
“I cannot accept congratulations for now; the results from the implementation will bring congratulations [more] than the launch,” David said.
He said the EU through the VPA has invested huge sums of money in Liberia’s forest for sustenance and benefits to the forest communities.
Palacio added that they are implementing the project to help Liberia avoid running out of forests in 15 to 20 years from now, and be like other countries in the West African region.
Also commenting, Mariatou Njie, FAO Representative to Liberia, said forests play significant roles in the livelihoods of poor people, and it is important that communities be involved in forest governance.
She said, “participatory approaches are central to the concept of community involvement, and practical implementation is relying heavily on community forestry experiences.”
She added that FAO over the years spearheaded the concept of community-based forestry as key elements in achieving social, economic and environmental objectives to sustainable forest management.
Gertrude W. K. Nyaley, FDA Technical Manager of Community Forest Department, for her part, lauded the launch of the project.
Meanwhile, the project will promote knowledge and technical skills to eight community Forestry Management bodies in Nimba, River Cess, Sinoe, Grand Gedeh and Lofa Counties.
This will provide insight to community members about their rights and responsibilities in community forest management with focus on youth and women participation.
It will also strengthen technical capacities of the National Union of Community Forest Management Boards (CFMB) to negotiate fair deals with logging companies and investors, and to monitor the negotiations of Commercial Use Contracts (CUCs).
These activities will be approached through meetings with forestry stakeholders, including representatives of FDA, Community Forest Development Committee, CFMB Union, civil society, and the targeted communities to create awareness.
Other methods include conduct of Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC) capacity building events; holding of education and awareness meetings on Community Rights Law of 2017, conduct of record keeping, and bookkeeping skills training; and collaborating with the NUCFMB to conduct four regional awareness and education events on the use of the Commercial Use Contract template, and provide logistical support to the UNCFMB to participate and monitor at least two negotiations involving two new CFMAs and third party investors.