30 September 2015

Liberia: Sinoe County - Liberian Community Pushing to Manage Forest

Sinoe County — With his yellow long shelves shirt, clear glasses, and baggy shorts, Roosevelt Deedo wears the uniform of Liberia's urban residents unlike a rural dweller. Spend just a few minutes with the old-man it is evident that he possesses the street smarts to match the look. However, it is people like Deedo whose advocacy in Numorpoh town that has prevented Golden Veroleum and other logging companies from encroaching on his community reserved forest.

"We depend on the forest for medicine, hunting and farming, if we give all the forest to companies, where are we going, if we do not act now there will come a time when there will be no forest," Deedo said. Giving community, the right to determine the future of their forest is what Deedo has long been advocating for in his community. Finally, the community right law has given locals a window of opportunities to manage their forest.

The local advocate stressed that the land investors want is not with the President or Legislators, it is with the ordinary people. "When investors come before operating, they (government) should send them to come and discuss with us (locals), we are investors in our forest and they are investor in their money," Deedo added. Deedo is a founding member of Sinoe Human Rights and Natural Resources Movement (SHRNRM) which advocates for the proper management of natural resources in Sinoe. Not looking at any paper, Deedo can drill anyone through the process that leads a Community to obtain a license from the Forest Development Authority to operate its forest.

Deedo recalls few years back that they had no input in the management of their forest and the community was used to companies cutting their logs without their consent. "OTC (Oriental Timber Company) came in Sinoe and destroyed our forest and we never benefitted," Deedo added. During Liberia's 14 years of civil war, the illicit sale of Liberian timber on international markets was a major source of funding for the warring factions, including that of former President Charles Taylor.

Doe Sayon who is also a resident of Numorpoh said by moving from the ugly past and having community managing their forest is good idea that brings development. Sayon said for the past hundred plus years the government has managed the forest with no benefits to forest communities. "The natural wealth of many emerging economies is being chopped down, mined or pumped, and is lining the pockets of a privileged few at the expense of the global poor," The Deputy Director of the Africa Progress Panel Max Bankole Jarrett said in a piece published by the Guardian.

Sayon said proceeds generated from the forest can be used to build clinics, schools and connect communities through the construction of roads. "The law (CRL) is in the interest of the people, before they never used to come to us," Sayon added. Recent moves by the Government of Liberia to reform its forest sector provide a window of opportunity to bring about profound and lasting change for the country's forests, local communities, and the wider economy.

FDA Community Forest Department Technical Manager Gertrude Korvayan Nyaley said, the ideas of communities managing their forest came as the result of Liberia ugly past where the forest was mismanaged. Nyaley said, the 2006 FDA reform act specifically address the mismanagement of the forest. "The 2006 FDA law, this law gives birth to the Community Rights Law, this gives communities the right to manage their forest," Nyaley said.

Nyaley said, communities can apply to manage their forest adding that it will be screen by a panel comprising FDA, EPA and the civil society. He noted that for a community to obtain a license to operate a forest, there are eight steps they should follow. "For the first time in the history of our country, the community can decide what to do with their forest," Nyaley said. FDA Community Forest Department Technical Manager explains that if the community completes the eight steps, they can be given the permission to manage their forest.

Nyaley said her office has received one hundred twenty applications from across the country from forest communities. "If the community wants to commercialize their forest, 55% of the proceed goes to the community for development." "They have a say in managing the proceeds, they have the Executive Committee, Community Assembly and the Community Forest Management Body," Nyaley added.

Nyaley predicts that if the communities are properly managing their forest in ten years, most of the communities will have basic social services. Nyaley continues :"In ten years I see community with schools, I see better healthcare, I see pregnant women will longer have to travel on bad roads to give birth, I see electricity that is the essence of the Community Rights Law."

The Norwegian government has pledged $150m up to the year 2020 if Liberia protects its forests standing - putting communities in charge of conserving their forests, and keeping industry out. In Sinoe, most of the villagers near the forest seem to be a bit aware of the importance of the establishment local's structures in managing their forest. But in Grand Bassa, the story is bit different.

In Bassa, locals are still struggling to set up their Community Forest Management Board but with a look in the faces of locals, one can suggest that they are anxious for the first time to have the opportunity to manage their forest. A resident of Grand Bassa, Adolphus Deputie, like other locals in Sinoe, believes that the new law is a good deal for forest communities.

Deputie said with the education acquired concerning forest management, it has empowered locals in protecting their forest. "Apart from logging companies and people who were doing pit sawing, we used to mismanage our forest by farming here and there," Deputie said. Deputie observed that when communities protect their forest, it could preserve endangered species which could attract tourists. He disclosed that his community has completed five out of the eight steps required to obtain a license to manage their forest.

"I regret why PROSPER (International Non-Governmental Organization) never came in soon, if they have come in early our forest will be tight (not destroyed)," Deputie said. A conference to Rethinking Liberia's Forests is aimed at developing a shared vision for Liberia's forests and people, and to create practical plans to implement this vision, it will be Held in Monrovia from 6th - 7th October..

The conference is co-organized by the Forestry Development Authority of Liberia, the Rights and Resources Initiative and Global Witness, and supported by a planning team including representatives from the Liberia Land Commission, the NGO Coalition of Liberia, and development partners supporting in the forest sector in Liberia. Discussions will include concrete examples from Liberia's forest sector as well as lessons learned from other countries with a view to considering how Liberia would benefit from different forms of forest management. These include looking at how a proper economic assessment can be made, for example, of the non-cash bounty of the forest, including the food, medicine, shelter and spiritual sustenance it provides.

The payoff from the proper management of Liberia's forest will be felt internationally too. At this year's Paris climate conference, the world is set to agree a deal to stay on the right side of the danger line on climate change. Forests will be integral - as a resource not to extract but to be kept alive and nurtured as a key sink for carbon emissions. Liberia is home to globally significant forests and most of its people depend on them for their livelihoods. But the predominance of large-scale timber extraction in the country prior to 2006 provided little benefits for local people and the environment due to poor resource governance.

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