A one-day brainstorming county forest dialogue among representatives of communities, companies, local and national government officials ends in Gbarnga, Bong County with key recommendations for reforms in the forestry sector.
The dialogue, organized by the National Union of Community Forestry Development Committee (NUCFDC), the National Union of Community Forest Management Body (NUCFMB) and the Liberia Timber Association (LibTA) was held recently.
The Gbarnga event is phase one of the dialogues, and brought together over 60 participants from Lofa, Nimba, Grand Cape Mount and Gbarpolu counties, respectively with funding from the European Union (EU). Phase two of the dialogues is expected to take place in Greenville, Sinoe County this month.
The theme of the dialogue is: "Bringing together communities, companies, local and national leaders face to face for sustainable and productive forest management".
Issues discussed include, roles and responsibilities of key forest stakeholders, benefit sharing mechanisms of forest resources, dispute prevention and resolution mechanisms in forest governance and experience sharing in noncompliance, interference and illegal logging.
Participants advanced several key recommendations for consideration in improving existing laws, regulations, policies, agreements and operations of forest structures (CFDCs/CFMBs) and companies.
Key recommendations are: intensive public outreach and awareness campaign among community members, stronger collaboration among key forest stakeholders in making sure communities and counties access their land rental fees (30% each), involvement of legal groups in drafting and signing of Social Agreements, among others.
Making specific references on experience sharing, participants indicated that most companies rely on FDA's assessment repot instead of conducting theirs, which, according to them, does not take into consideration several key things such as proper boundary harmonization. They citied specific instances like the conflicts in Lofa and Gbarpolu counties.
Also participants, mainly from LibTA declared that FDA has never done due diligence beyond financial capability of companies while bidding for forest contracts, nothing, FDA is mainly concerned about which company has the financial strength. At the same time, it was observed that community structures and government entities working in the forestry sector are too much dependent on companies for support outside of the scope of the contract.
The county forest dialogue was organized with support from the European Union Non-State Actors (EU-NSA) project, "Strengthening the capacity of non-state actors to improve FLEGT-VPA and REDD+ processes in Western Africa". The EU-NSA project is being implemented since 2016 in Ghana, Ivory Coast and Liberia. The Liberian component is implemented by Volunteers To Support International Efforts In Developing Africa (VOSIEDA) in partnership with Tropenbos International (TBI). Editing by Jonathan Browne