(Gbarnga, Bong County, August 29, 2019)…A one day brainstorming county forest dialogue among representatives of communities, companies and local and national government officials has ended in Bong County Gbarnga City with key recommendations made for reforms in the forestry sector.
The dialogue which 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) was held on August 29, 2019.
The Gbarnga event is phase one of the dialogues, aAdd Mediand brought together over 60 participants from Lofa, Nimba, Grand Cape Mount and Gbarpolu counties, with funding support from the European Union (EU). Phase two of the dialogues is expected to take place in Greenville, Sinoe County in September 2019.
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 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.
At the end of the day, 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.
Others are, the need for FDA to assess the capacities of companies before granting them concession rights, FDA should conduct boundary harmonization of adjacent communities before forest demarcation to avoid conflict, legislators should refrain from owning logging companies as they are seen influencing community’s decisions in selecting companies to manage their forests, FDA should increase its monitoring activities in the forests, etc.
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 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 Secretariat of the National Benefits Sharing Trust Board (NBSTB) reported having less or no activity due to lack of operational funds to run the secretariat. For community to access their share of forest revenues, the NBSTB established carrying out protest or issuing strong warning. On the other hand, they also said, some communities are not properly accounting for funds entrusted to them, and are in constant habit of changing project scopes and designs without coming back to the drawing board.
Following NBSTB’s revelation, the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) revealed that payment of taxes and other forest revenues trees harvested in the Liberian forests have been current since 2016, a revelation that shocked participants particularly the communities.
Communities however explained that lack of community management plan remains a major challenge for them in meeting development community goals.
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).
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.