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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In his inaugural speech, 22 January 2018, President George Weah promised Liberians “a future of hope and prosperity”. Ten months into his presidency, Liberians are still experiencing economic problems as the price of commodities rises daily. Despite such difficulties, notable forest governancerelated achievements have occurred since his inauguration.
President Weah is credited with the passage of the Land Rights Act (LRA) in September. The Act outlines four types of land ownership and, by accurately defining and attributing land rights in Liberia, could be a major step toward preventing land conflicts. It is the direct result of collaboration between the Government and CSOs. Members of the CSO Working Group on Land Reform joined with Members of Parliament to develop and finalise the bill.
The LRA will empower communities and advance their involvement in the governance of Liberia’s natural resources. Prior to its passage, the CSO Working Group on Land Reform stated that the Act would “meet the requirements of a truly procommunity land rights bill that is in the interest of all Liberians”.
Significantly, while the LRA provides a progressive framework, increased donor support will be needed to implement it successfully and to help communities use it to protect their traditional land rights.
In his inaugural address, President Weah also stated that he inherited a “broken economy”. This may explain why no land rental fees have been allocated to communities in the national budget. The omission is considerable: the National Forestry Law requires the Government to allocate 30 per cent of land rental fees paid by logging companies to communities and another 30 per cent to counties. However, from 2015 to the present, communities have received only a little more than USD 2 million through the National Benefit-Sharing Trust account. Liberians hope that the situation will be corrected before the next National Budget formulation.
Accountability and transparency both remain key issues within the forestry sector. Liberia expanded its national Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) to include timber; more problematic is the fact that Liberia’s EITI has since been suspended for missing a deadline.
At the National Multi-Stakeholder Monitoring Committee (NMSMC) meeting in October 2018, the NGO Coalition of Liberia followed up on transparency and compliance issues raised by Sustainable Development Initiative’s (SDI) and civil society Independent Forest Monitors concerning the Sewacajua Community Forest Management Agreement (CFMA) process, and one logging company’s lack of transparency regarding community benefits and multiple issues of compliance with the CFMA process. The coalition called on the NMSMC to address these issues in order to bring community forestry in compliance with the Community Rights Law and to allow communities to benefit, as opposed to only logging companies.
While participants remain committed to the multistakeholder VPA platform, the new managing director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) has yet to attend any of the meetings since his appointment in February 2018. Members of civil society and the EU hope that the new director will become more involved: his absence from the VPA process has led to difficulties in coordinating the JIC meetings. This must not be allowed to diminish Liberia’s VPA progress or to delay setting up the new CFMA monitoring committee, to be composed of EU and Liberian representatives.
As indicated above, the FDA still lacks the ability to manage the CFMA process, leading to conflicts within communities. However, two CSOs, SDI and Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI), are working with community forest leaders to build their capacity to manage community forests. FCI works directly with women representatives to increase their expertise and, over the last year, has held workshops and trainings to increase awareness and encourage their participation in both Community Assemblies and Community Forestry Management Bodies. SDI also provides technical and financial support to forest leaders and has worked with communities to increase their representation at community forums. CSOs remain committed to the VPA process and hope to work closely with the Government in order to improve natural resource governance in Liberia.
Last updated in December 2018.
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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