A three day training in RTM ForestLink technology has opened in Gbarnga, Bong County with call on participants to see themselves as champions and conveners in forest governance. Day one of the training focused on four topics, including general introduction to RTM ForestLink system in Africa, Community forest monitoring guide, social agreement, commercial use contract and collectuar.
The training is organized by the European Union Non-State Actors project: “Strengthening the capacity of non-state actors (NSA) to improve FLEGT-VPA and REDD+ processes in Western Africa” implemented by the Volunteers To Support International Efforts In Developing Africa (VOSIEDA) and Tropenbos International Netherlands, with the Civil Society Independent Forest Monitor (CS-IFM) serving as a lead partner.
Participants were informed of their rights to monitor the forest under the current forest laws, with emphasis on evidence gathering and reporting using the ForestLink system. During the training, emphasis were placed on FDA’s reluctant to act on information coming from community for prove of alleged crimes committed by companies other players in the forestry sector. But with the RTM technology, the alerts will be evidence based and real time, which will enhance FDA and other relevant authorities to take immediate action since they too are connected to platform.
The RTM ForestLink technology, according to the facilitator, will reduce community burdens of travelling to Monrovia with complaints, thereby enhancing effective monitoring and reporting. “You don’t have to come to Monrovia from your villages again. Just stay there and send alerts and FDA will have access. Your name will not show when you sent alerts, but we will know who sent the information”, Abraham Billy, Program Manager of VISIEDA said.
During presentation on community guide, participants were taught on how to plan investigation, gather information, drafting report and getting your findings to wider audience taking into consideration the five Ws (who, where, what, when and why). “Before you do an investigation, you should have an idea of what you want to do. If you don’t have idea of what you want to do, it will be hard to do with you want to do”, CS-IMF Team Leader, Roland Harris told participants.
On the social agreement component of the training, participants were urged to always focus on 7 key areas in the social agreement when monitoring compliance. The 7 key areas include: cover page, name of the area, company and FDA logo, legal reference, technical description (the metes and bounds and area map), purpose and statement of mutual benefits and interest, duties and responsibilities of companies and communities and code of conducts.
“As a forest monitor, you need to have an idea of the full map which carries population of community, number of roads rehabilitated/constructed and where other activities are taking place in the concession area”, Facilitator Andrew Zeleman emphasized.
13 most significant components of the newly approved Commercial Use Contract (CUC) for communities wanting to enter forest agreement were discussed. The 13 components included, right to extract/sell logs, payment and payment terms, local employment and training, road and community infrastructures, requirements before commercial felling, planning, monitoring and implementation. Others are assignment and transfer of contract, damages, enforcement of rules and dispute resolution, sustainability, termination and signatures of parties.
At the close of day one, presentation on ForestLink mobile application using Collectaur was introduced to participants. Under this application, ForestLink tool allows local people to send alerts and evidence of illegalities using a smartphone app even in areas with no mobile connectivity. Information collected will be transmitted via satellite, internet or SMS.