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Liberia - 19 September, 2019
Key recommendations for improving existing laws, regulations, policies, agreements and operations of forest structures and companies is the result of a one day regional forest dialogue among representatives of communities, companies and local and national government in Bong County, Liberia (August 29, 2019).
During the dialogue “Bringing together communities, companies, local and national leaders face to face for sustainable and productive forest management” issues as the 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 where discussed.
This first dialogue 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) brought together over 60 participants from various counties. A second dialogue is expected to take place in Grand Bassa County early October 2019.
The key recommendations from the dialogue can be summarized as:
Specific Recommendations directed to the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) include 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; and FDA should increase its monitoring activities in the forests.
The dialogue was also a space for the different actors to share their experiences and voice their concerns. Some community members indicated that most companies rely on FDA’s assessment report instead of conducting theirs, which, according to them, does not take into consideration several key things such as proper boundary harmonization.
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. In past years, the board has depended on minimum percentage from funding government committed to community as land rental fees and funding support from donor’s funded projects for its operations. But for the past two to three years, community has not accessed their share of forest revenues. 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. A major excuse for community not accessing their benefits has been the noncompliance of logging companies to royalties payment.
However, the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) revealed that payment of taxes and other forest revenues on trees harvested in the Liberian forests have been current since 2016, a revelation that shocked participants particularly the communities and county administrations as it means government is not passing on the 30% share of revenues due to both communities and county councils.
Finally, it can be concluded 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.
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).