Gbarnga — A conference on the formalization of customary land on Thursday opened in Gbarnga, Bong County for local and county officials of Lofa, Bong and Nimba.
The Land Rights Act of 2018 recognizes customary land ownership but communities must first meet certain requirements the law mandates to have legal right to their land. As per the requirements, communities must first identify themselves as land bodies, create a community land governance structures, harmonize their boundaries with their neighbors, and then conduct a confirmatory survey.
Parley-Liberia, a Gbarnga-based nongovernmental organization is creating awareness on the law in communities from the three counties in collaboration with the Liberia Land Authority (LLA). A number of communities have completed the self-identification requirement of the law and set up land committees. Organizers said the conference was necessary to strategize, and reemphasize the roles of communities, local officials and county authorities as communities began resolving boundaries disputes, which can be contentious.
"[We want the local, statutory and customary leaders to commit themselves to driving the process," said Nyahn Flomo, Program Coordinator with Parley Liberia, on the margins of the conference. "Some of them will see it as a usual NGO project... but this something that will empower them and prepare them for the future. They need to own and drive it themselves, while we just facilitate."
County authorities and local authorities expressed optimism over the outcome of the conference.
"This program is very rewarding because we as district commissioners have a lot of problems in the district when it comes to land issues," said Julia F. Russell, Commissioner of Wanhasa Administrative District, Lofa County. "I am very happy that some of the chiefs are getting idea that they will make the work easier for us. Boundary issues between villages, clans, it's just a lot of headache."
"It is so important to me because the land business is too much on our side," said Paramount Chief Allen Flomo of Sanniquiellie-Mahn district. "From here, we will go and tell everybody that boundaries are so important. Everyone's got to be involved."
Authorities of the LLA said the conference was aligned with the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development. "We know land is riches, land is politics, land is riches. If we are making sure the customary people... have their land, we are also making sure they have power," said Atty. J. Adam Manobah, Chairman of the LLA. "Land is economic [power]. If they understand their rights and have title to their deed, then they can transact business. This is very supportive of the [Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development] of the government."
The conference featured a string of activities. A few communities that have already completed boundary harmonization shared their experiences and conference delegates conducted exercises on the subject. Communities provided updates on their own formalization processes. And there was a full session on women's rights to land.
The conference is a nearly US$2 million project: Protection of Customary Collective Land Rights project (P3CL) being implemented by Parley Liberia, Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI) and the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI). The funder is Tenure Facility, an international nongovernmental organization that supports rural communities around the world to have ownership of their lands. Other counties benefited from it include Grand Bassa, River Cess and Margibi.
The conference, which has brought together more than 75 superintendents, commissioners and chiefs, will close Friday with a presentation of an agreed, common strategies for boundary harmonization throughout the three counties, Flomo said.