Photo: Terry Sunderland – CIFOR, Flickr/cc.
Liberia started VPA negotiations in 2009 and the VPA entered into force on 1 December 2013. Liberia is currently developing the systems needed to control, verify and license legal timber.
Forests are important contributors to Liberia’s formal and informal economies. For many communities, forests are critical to livelihoods but major drivers of deforestation include slash-and-burn agriculture, charcoal production and artisanal logging.
China is now the main importer of Liberian timber, but both Liberia and the EU expect that VPA implementation will strengthen the standing of Liberian timber products on the EU market. Liberia contains more than half the entire rainforest remaining in West Africa. About 45 per cent of the country, 4.3 million hectares, is covered by forest. During Liberia’s civil war in the 1990s and early 2000s, timber revenues were misappropriated and used to sustain the conflict. In 2003, the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on timber exports from Liberia. These sanctions were lifted in 2006 following the country’s efforts to reform the forest sector.
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Over the past year, Liberia’s economic crisis has intensified. In May 2019, President George Maneeh Weah stated that “Liberia has lost significant revenue from the fall in the prices of iron ore and rubber, and [its] rubber farmers have lost their income and ability to spend in the economy.” The President also acknowledged a decline in remittances and that the country “is no longer receiving emergency aid,” as was the case following Liberia’s civil war and during the Ebola crisis. These realities are crippling the economy, leading to the devaluation of the Liberian dollar and sharp price increases.
The crisis and accounts of government corruption and embezzlement have led to civil unrest. On 7 June thousands of Liberians protested price hikes and corruption. The situation is causing unease amongst residents as well as regional and international peace brokers. The EU, the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union have tried to bring both parties together but the government and the protesters have yet to negotiate a peaceful resolution.
Stakeholders are worried that the economic crisis could threaten the future stability of the forestry sector and the VPA process, yet amid these challenges, local and international actors continue to survey and help improve the forest sector. Donors are providing steady support to Liberia to implement the VPA and forestry-related policies and rules, such as the Land Rights Act, which offers communities hope that their traditional land rights will be protected.
In addition, forest stakeholders held consultations with the government, asking them to commit to allocating a portion of land rental arrears paid by logging companies into the National Budget. This consultation was started because the land rental arrears were omitted from last year’s budget. Given that difficulties surround determining actual fees paid, and therefore portions owed to communities, stakeholders are concerned that, once more, little or no rental fees will be allocated to communities in this years’ budget.
During this time of uncertainty, the Liberia Forest Sector Project (LFSP) has hired the consultants SOFRECO to conduct a review of logging concessions, contracts and agreements. In May, SOFRECO began assessing the legality of concessions and agreements (Forest Management Contracts, Timber Sale Contracts, Private Use Permits and Community Forestry Management Agreements); the sustainability of the Liberian forests resource base; the financial and economic viability of the timber sector for the government and communities; and the sector’s commercial attractiveness for investment. NGOs hope that this review will validate the findings of civil society monitoring and will result in government action.
Given the challenges, Liberia’s forest sector has struggled with participation. At the recent Joint Implementation Committee meeting, participants created and selected a multi-stakeholder EU-Liberia committee to integrate “timber sourced from commercially oriented CFMAs [Community Forest Management Agreements] into the timber legality assurance system.” CSOs hope that this multi-stakeholder cooperation between the EU and Liberia will pave the way for subsequent investigations into VPA violations (logging outside concession boundaries, taking trees below diameter, etc.) However, since its constitution at the beginning of March 2019, the committee has not met to plan and undertake activities in support of its mandate. It is hoped that the VPA support team will address any logistical issues associated with the committee’s work.
Though all stakeholders remain committed, the FDA Managing Director Hon. C. Mike Doyen did not attend any National Multi-Stakeholder Monitoring Committee (NMSMC) meetings in 2018 or 2019. The managing director’s involvement is vital to the VPA process, and CSOs hope that he will attend future NMSMC meetings. The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) has promised nevertheless to respond to CSOs’ briefings. For example, during the May NMSMC meeting, the FDA stated that they would respond to Sustainable Development Initiative’s (SDI) brief on Sewakajua CFMA, published in March 2018. The FDA is currently verifying the findings of a December 2018 report by VOSIEDA, another CSO, highlighting compliance issues. Such FDA actions, though delayed, appear to demonstrate commitment to addressing CSOs’ concerns regarding rule of law, due diligence and, more broadly, compliance in the forest sector. However, the FDA must be more proactive in dealing with issues that strengthen transparency and accountability within the forest sector, especially concerning community forestry processes.
While the FDA’s participation and actions have been mixed, the government continues to collaborate with civil society to implement the Land Rights Act, signed last September. In February, the CSO Working Group on Land Reforms and the Liberia Land Authority (LLA) held a Conference to develop strategies and messages to implement the Land Rights Act at the community level. The LLA is also holding consultations with CSOs associated with the land sector to draft regulations and guidelines for implementation of the law.
Despite these achievements, numerous challenges surround implementation of the Land Rights Act, including gaps and contradictions highlighted in two briefs SDI published in March 2019. CSOs hope that over the next year, stakeholders will continue to participate in forest governance meetings to address these shortcomings.
Last updated in July 2019.
A brief history of VPA negotiations so far, from a civil society perspective
Civil society and local community groups in Liberia have been using the VPA negotiations and implementation to push for change on issues that are important to them. In 2015 a number of Liberia civil society organisations published a report documenting the value of the VPA and how they have used it.
A detailed assessment of the VPA negotiation process is covered in a report published by SDI at the conclusion of negotiations.
For the latest information about Liberia, contact:
Sustainable Development Institute (SDI Liberia):
Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI Liberia):
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