The second phase of the European Union Sponsored Regional Forest Dialogue among representatives of communities, companies and local and national government officials has taken place in the Port City of Buchanan, Grand Bassa County.
The dialogue was organized by the National Union of Community Forestry Development Committee (NUCFDC), the National Union of Community Forest Management Body (NUCFMB), the Liberia Timber Association (LibTA) with support from the European Union Non-State Actors (EU-NSA) project.
The one day forest forum brought together over 50 participants from Grand Bassa, Rivercess, Sinoe, Margibi and Montserrado Counties under the theme: “Bringing together communities, companies, local and national leaders face to face for sustainable and productive forest management”.
Topics for discussion included, 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.
The dialogue advanced key recommendations for sustainable forest management and control. Paramount among recommendations is for the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) to be granted autonomous status. The call for independent status of FDA was predicated on the general beliefs of participants that the forest regulatory body lacks capacity to proactively handle forest related matters and carryout regular monitoring of the forests and forest contracts.
“FDA always complain of lack of logistics and manpower, which is why they delay in responding to issues. Even the local FDA staffs are not always available to answer to community calls; they always say the situation is above them or no transportation. The non-response from FDA is causing lots of commotion in the communities. So giving them autonomous status will make them to direct their own resources on things that are of priorities to them such as routine monitoring”, most participants argued during the dialogue.
Other recommendations are: FDA should be proactive in responding to issue of conflicts, FDA should empower its local offices, Social agreements should be publicized, community benefits should be directly deposited in community accounts, Government should pay community’s share (30%) of forest revenues in any currency the money was paid by the company to avoid unintended miscalculations at the disadvantage of communities.
Other recommendations are, Chief Officers of Community Forest Management Body (CFMB) should, henceforth, make full disclosure of information relevant to community benefits, community forest structures should firstly channel grievances through their unions before any other party, FDA should revoke the license of all inactive concessions holding onto lands and noncompliance companies should be stopped from operating.
Many Participants expressed dissatisfaction over attempts by some FDA officials to impose on them their desired company or contractor during signing of Commercial Use Contract (CUC), something community representatives said is sometimes responsible for the many conflicts taking place in forest communities.
The regional 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).
It was observed that the ongoing dialogues will cement communities-companies relations, minimize tension between major forest actors, improve service delivery to communities ensuring commitments are fulfilled, and enhance inclusiveness for marginalized and vulnerable groups of women and youth in forest operations.