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Liberia 's forests constitute the largest remaining blocks of the Upper Guinean Forest Ecosystem, a threatened global hotspot for biodiversity, home to many rare and endangered flora and fauna. They also play a vital role in the nation's economy. In fact, they can generate up to 60% of the nation's foreign exchange earnings; around 7,000 people depend on them for their livelihood. Under the regime of Charles Taylor, forests in Liberia were not managed sustainably or transparently. Moreover, the revenues generated through commercial logging were used to fund armed conflict in the region. Recent government change in Liberia and current UN sanctions on timber export from Liberia provide the Government of Liberia and its partners a rare opportunity to reform forestry practices throughout the nation. Priority activities have focused on:
- Creating enabling conditions for the lifting of UN Sanctions on timber
- Assisting in returning the Liberian timber sector to a profitable and sustainable basis, so that there is transparent commercial forest management
- Managing forests for the benefit of all Liberians
- Generating employment and tax revenues for the Liberian economy
- Ensuring security and rule of law in the forested regions of Liberia
- Assessing the state and extent of Liberia ’s forests
- Developing community-based forestry and protected area management activities.
Under the Liberia Forest Initiative (LFI), the US Forest Service is working with many partners-including lending organizations such as the World Bank and the IMF, international conservation non-governmental organizations such as Conservation International and Flora & Fauna International, US government, and host-country agencies such as the Liberian Forest Development Authority (FDA)-to help reform Liberia's forest sector and promote sustainable use of natural resources and biodiversity conservation. The US Forest Service currently has three long-term technical advisors based in Monrovia who provide assistance related to commercial and community forestry.
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Details of recent achievements in the rehabilitation and reform of Liberia ’s forestry sector are presented below.
Ten Core Regulations: The Forestry Reform Law of 2006 addressed the global issues of transparency, accountability, and civil society empowerment, but needed to address approximately 27 procedures to be detailed in regulation. The LFI supported the FDA to establish ten core regulations, approved by the Board of Directors of the FDA on September 11, 2007, that are key to the restarting of commercial logging in Liberia.
Development of Internal Training Manuals: The LFI has worked with the FDA to develop specialized training manuals to serve as teaching tools for the FDA staff for key forest management procedures required in the law and regulations. Field manuals have been established for the following topics:
-Field assessment and contract preparation manual
- Code of harvesting practices
- Forest management planning guidelines
- Chain of custody procedures
- Contract administration manual
- Social Agreement manual
Chain of Custody Contract: Based on the findings of the Forestry Concession Review Committee, the FDA and the LFI agreed that a Chain of Custody management system was a crucial element to the successful implementation of the reformed governance system. Chain of Custody is the foundation for both the accuracy of invoicing fees and the monitoring of sustainable forest management systems. International experience supports the premise that chain of custody can be effectively sub-contracted to ensure independent log movement monitor, verify legal origin of logs, and ensure payment of all appropriate fees before wood and wood products are exported from the country.
The LFI and GOL contracted SGS through a competitive recruiting process to manage the chain of custody process. SGS agreed to a five year, build, operate and transfer contract, which requires SGS to establish a fully computerized chain of custody system for all commercial logs and log products from logging contracts in the Republic of Liberia. The contract is unique in several ways:
- SGS is required to recruit and train all staff for the chain of custody process. GOL agency staff involved in Chain of Custody operations, such as the FDA, Ministry of Finance and Central Bank, will receive training as well. At the end of the contract the process must be handed back to the GOL for local operation.
- The SGS chain of custody process covers the entire country and is, therefore, much more comprehensive than other contracts of this nature. If successfully implemented the contract will provide near real-time reconcilable data on commercial production in the entire nation. This will be the foundation for eventual assurances of legal harvesting and could also assist in the determination of sustainable yield compliance.
- The chain of custody system is also the foundation for other programs such as developing a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Commission. The VPA is an agreement that will support the production of only legal wood products for export to Europe. Under a VPA, both Europe and Liberia would agree to criteria for legality, a rigorous chain of custody system is the foundation to that process as well. Therefore, a fully functional chain of custody system could eventually bring higher prices to the Liberian sellers and an increased tax base to the GOL.
Timber Sales Contracts: With USFS technical support, the first short-term timber sales contracts were awarded in early 2008 since the UN sanctions were placed on Liberia. As the FDA and timber sector reforms continue to develop, larger and longer-term timber sales contracts are anticipated in the coming years.
Additional information about the forest reform process in Liberia can be found at www.fao.org/forestry/site/lfi/en
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Addressing Illegal Logging
The Liberia Forest Initiative (LFI)
- Consortium of U.S. Federal Agencies, Industry Representatives, International Organizations, and Non-Governmental Agencies which coordinates activities to support forest sector reform in Liberia to rehabilitate the country’s forest sector after 14 years of civil war, which was largely financed through illegal timber concessions
- US Forest Service plays the lead role in the LFI on behalf of the USG, with funding from the US State Department and USAID
- The LFI is working with the Liberian government with the goal of achieving economically, ecologically and socially sustainable forest management through commercial forestry, conservation and community forestry.
- In order to improve management by the forest sector several components are being addressed, including establishing transparent financial management practices and equitable allocation of revenue generated from timber harvesting; building up the agency mandated to manage the nation’s forests with the appropriate level of staff, skills and financial and material resources to effectively carry out this mandate; and assisting Liberian authorities with effective enforcement of forest resource laws.
- A well managed and transparent forest sector will contribute much needed tax revenue for the country and long term employment opportunities for its citizens, while continuing to provide social and conservation benefits.
- The US Forest Service, through the LFI has provided the government of Liberia with assistance in the areas of reforming commercial and concession forestry, community based forest management, and financial management.
Please see USFS trip reports on FRAME: http://www.frameweb.org/ev_en.php?ID=7709_201&ID2=DO_TOPIC
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