Liberia: EPA, Liberia Forest Sector Conduct Natural Resource Management Awareness

Bopolu — The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in collaboration with the Liberia Forest Sector Project (LFSP) has completed a two-day workshop on "Natural Resource Management" in Bopolu, Gbarpolu County for community leaders in Bomi, Grand Cape Mount and Gbarpolu Counties.

Speaking at the start of the workshop, EPA Manager for Planning and Policy, Elijah Z. Whapoe, said the workshop was in line with the agreement between the Governments of Liberia and Norway to help reduce deforestation and degradation in targeted forest landscapes.

Mr. Whapoe, who is the LFSP Focal person, said the US$37.5 million project supported by the Government of Norway focuses on three areas including the protection of areas under forest cover in targeted forest landscapes, emission eeductions and carbon sequestration and people in targeted forests adjacent communities and increasing monetary values of the forest.

He said beneficiaries of the project are communities that mostly depend on forest resources from the northwestern region of Liberia. They include Bomi, Gbarpolu, Grand Cape Mount and Lofa Counties.

Also, forest resource communities in Grand Gedeh, Grand Kru, Rivercess and River Gee Counties are also beneficiary of the project.

The project is being implemented by several governments' entities including the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy (LME), the Liberia Land Authority (LLA) and the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-information Services (LISGIS).

Also speaking, the LFSP Environmental Safeguards Coordinator Nick B. Goll II stressed that "forest plays an invaluable role to the survival of humans; providing services such as water, carbon storage and biodiversity".

Presenting on the topic: "The relationship between community and forests," Mr. Goll indicated that there is a complex interaction between local communities and their forests.

He noted that an estimated 60 million indigenous people depend on the forest for livelihood, from where they get some of the following products including timber, fuel wood, wild food-animal and plants, medicinal plants, other non-timber forest products, (NTFP) and grazing for animals.

In his concluding statement, the safeguards specialist stated that without forests, earth would be inhabitable; and people heavily depend on the forest for goods and services and survivor. Correspondingly, the forests depend on human for protection and management.

In her presentation, Ruth Varnie, FDA's Regional Forester of Region One, presenting on the topic, "Community Forest Management: Processes, Practices, Rights and Responsibilities," pointed out that Liberia is one of the few countries with legal framework that purposely addresses community rights to forest.

This framework, Mrs. Varnie said, includes legislation and regulations that outline the process to secure community forest rights, while taking into consideration the implementation of pilot projects to demonstrate the feasibility of the Framework.

Accordingly, in Liberia, this requires the development of a management plan to provide guidance on use, access and management of forest resources, considering the legal framework to convey legal rights and responsibilities.

Giving some historical facts relative to community forest in Liberia, she recalled that Community forestry first came to importance in the mid-70s and continued to evolve over the last few decades in a growing number.

The FDA boss noted that some milestone achievements of recent are the establishment of the National Forest Reform Law (NFRL) of 2006, which deals the community, commercial conservation aspects of the forest, known as the three C's principle.

"The NFRL created the "Three Cs"s approach to forest management, whereas Community forest management is an evolving branch of forestry where by the local community play a significant role in forest management and land use. Community Forestry involves the participation and collaboration of various stakeholders," the FDA official averred.

She highlighted that the NFRL gives exclusive rights to the role of local community in forest management, and stressed that understanding the legal framework and the processes that are contained therein are vital in ensuring that these rights are properly secured.

The regional FDA boss concluded that Communities should work closely with the FDA to ensure the success of the community forestry program which gives rise to community gaining access to their community forest land through legal ownership.

Meanwhile, following the presentation on the challenges of climate change, adaptation and mitigation in Liberia by J. S. Datuama Cammue, CBD Focal Point, the session proposed several challenges; suggesting the corrective measures to combat these challenges, some of which include sedentary (low and Upland) farming: train local community dwellers and FDA to improve extension services to encourage farmers for crops intensification and MOA to increase farmers-technicians ratio.

Other suggestions include the Enforcement of existing regulations and formulation of new policies to address current day realities on mining, establishment of sawmills by logging companies as per regulations and FDA/EPA, community and partners should enforce endangered animal species regulations; MOA to encourage community dwellers in animal husbandry.

The counties authorities in separate remarks lauded the government and its partners for the enlightenment and called the inclusion of all concerned in the process.

Hon. Eric Penney, Acting Superintendent and County Inspector of Grand Cape Mount County, Hon. Ernest Gray Davies, Development Superintendent of Bomi and Mr. William S. Mulbah, Administrative Assistant to Honorable Armah Sannoh Superintendent of Gbarpolu County represented their respective counties.

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