Local farmers across the country are blaming government's policies that allocated large-scale industrial mining, logging and agriculture concessions for climate change in the country. Participants at a recent workshop organized by Green Advocates with funding from the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) in Rivercess County southeast of Liberia have blamed current changes in their climatic conditions as well as the current rate of deforestation and forest degradation on an elitist-led massive land grabbing by foreign concessionaires.
The farmers said that the current rate of deforestation and forest degradation has never been witnessed before in Liberia since the granting of the US$1million concession to the Firestone Agriculture Plantation in 1926.
The workshop was intended to deliberate on how to address the issues of deforestation and forest degradation as well as to design a strategy to engage government and other stakeholders on the government climate change policy formulation process as well as its readiness plan for Reduce Emission from Deforestation and Degradation ( REDD).
The group of farmers participating in the forum said: "do not blame poor rural farmers for climate change."
According to the farmer and other participants, recent agricultural, forest and mining concessions have been appropriated approximately 2 million acres of community land subject to customary law.
"Just in the last six months alone approximately 2 million hectares of forest land have been awarded under Private Use Permits alone, they stated.
The participants pointed to a recent study by the Liberian Land Commission, which estimated that about 75% of the total Liberian Land areas have either been awarded under concessions or is currently in the pipelines to be awarded under concessions, This means that poor Liberians may only have to fight over the remaining 25%.
"These situations could foster resentment and conflict among indigenous and rural populations, and ultimately undermine not only the efficacy of a Liberian REDD program and the sustainable forest program more generally but the peace and stability of the Country," they added.
During the deliberations, civil society and their local community partners committed themselves to strategically engage all REDD stakeholders including the Government of Liberia, the private sector, international non-governmental organizations and development partners to ensure that the Liberian Climate Change and REDD Policy will be transparent, accountable, pro-poor, rights and tenure based.
The participants emphasized that making Liberia Climate Change and REDD policy transparent, accountable, Pro poor, Rights and tenure based will ensure that local community Rights and land and property tenure are an integral part of future Liberian REDD policy in a manner that this policy will be shape by Liberian civil society and local communities.
The participants vehemently resisted reference and blames that deforestation is due to slash and burn subsistence agriculture activities.
They indicated that current strategy of the Government of Liberia to blame slash and burn agriculture as the culprit for deforestation is cleverly design to blame the poorest of the poor for climate change.
The participants, many of whom were also local farmers engaged into slash and burn agriculture said rather than blame them as culprit, they have been victimized by climate change conditions to the extent that they are currently witnessing crop failure with serious implications for food security in the country.
They blamed the current rate of deforestation on the government's policies that allocate large amount of forest land to logging, mining and agriculture companies.
They also attributed the current attack on subsistence rotational slash and burn agriculture as the driver of deforestation on right wing conservationist, the logging cartels, career international consultants working with some of the country development partners and bureaucrats using Liberia as an experimental field laboratory even though empirical evidence point to the fact that currently, international demand for Liberian logs and sawn timber is still a leading driver of deforestation.
The participants said approximately four-fifths of Liberian forests are situated within three kilometers of logging roads constructed by logging companies and that current logging road expansion is expected to constitute a growing threat to the Liberian forests.
According to the participants, the Liberian annual rate of deforestation is currently estimated to be approximately 12,000 hectares (0.3 percent), while the recorded planting of new forests since 1971 to date has amounted to only approximately 11,000 hectares in total.
"Government currently has no plan to significantly address the drivers of deforestation and the local Liberian dynamics and customary (cultural) practices influencing the drivers of climate change and the factors for addressing mitigation and adaptations. They said in the last four years since logging operation commenced, the Forestry Development Authority has not planted a single tree, even though industrial logging concessions are conducting a scourge earth policy of clear cutting down trees in the rural communities for export.