Nearly two-thirds of what remains of West Africa’s rainforests are in Liberia. But will that always be the case? Deforestation at the hands of humans once posed the biggest threat. Now climate change is exacerbating the challenge to protect forests and biodiversity.
As chief of party of the USAID-funded Forest Incomes for Environmental Sustainability (FIFES) Activity, I’ve seen how our activity, implemented by ACDI/VOCA, is succeeding in this fight to protect forests and forest-dependent communities. In short, it cannot be done alone. Global development programs need key partners to sustain these efforts for years to come.
Changing Behaviors Among Forest-Dependent Communities
Previous programs implemented by ACDI/VOCA and other organizations first established community forestry in Liberia. The FIFES Activity builds on those efforts and now supports 11 community forests in Grand Bassa and Nimba counties, where we help local communities form governance structures, develop forest-based businesses, and establish mutually beneficial partnerships—both public and private—in order to sustainably manage forest resources.
Today, the Liberian government officially recognizes community forests and community forest management bodies (CFMBs). Unfortunately, many of those bodies lack the resources, skills, and often the incentives to change behaviors around natural resource use.
To promote behavior change, we engage directly with CFMBs to help them access resources, build skills, and establish economic and social incentives that embrace sustainability as a way of life. We also help locals launch their own enterprises—ones with business models that support sustainable forestry. This approach promotes sustainable natural resource management and, at the same time, improves incomes among those who depend on the forests.
As a result, some CFMBs, with approval from their community assemblies, have signed contracts with private sector entities for sustainable timber extraction. Others have developed their own enterprises to sustainably harvest non-timber products from the forest or to maintain agroforestry standards outside the community forests.
A New Model Helps Locals Earn More Responsibly
Each CFMB has its own management plan and enterprise groups. They each also belong to a CFMB hub. Among the 11 community forests, the FIFES Activity facilitated the creation of three hubs. Along with management duties, each hub fulfills a coordinating role for its geographic area, helping farmers boost productivity, find diverse income streams, and connect with commercial markets.
This model benefits the government by lowering the cost of enforcing resource use regulations. It also stimulates a community forest culture that values sustainability, evolving the relationship between the government’s Forestry Development Authority and CFMBs from a paternalistic one to an equal partnership. The result is a breakdown of the old paradigm, in which policy making in Liberia once excluded the views of forest-dwelling and indigenous groups.
The result is a breakdown of the old paradigm, in which policy making in Liberia once excluded the views of forest-dwelling and indigenous groups.
Each hub makes a business proposition: it will offer services to fellow CFMBs and participating communities as part of their business plans to sell sustainable agricultural and forest-derived products and help them overcome poverty and reduce their dependence on forest resources. In return, communities must agree to abandon destructive land use practices. If they fail to stop poaching or clear-cutting forests, the hub reserves the right to withdraw its services until such practices are reversed.
Ensuring CFMB Hubs are Self-Sufficient, Commercially Viable
To make sure the hubs can sell competitively priced products, we support them in storing and processing commodities from all 11 community forests under the supervision of skilled staff, who monitor production, prices, and sales. FIFES Activity staff are also embedded at each hub to help CFMBs maintain sound internal fiduciary and management policies and procedures.
Through the hub model, community forests supported by the FIFES Activity have begun to thrive. The road to protecting West Africa’s Guinean rainforests is long, but partnership models such as the one used in Liberia make us more likely to arrive at the destination, where we can all enjoy the benefits of a healthy forest sustainably.
Glenn Lines is the Chief of Party of the USAID-funded Liberia Forest Incomes for Environmental Sustainability Activity. He also serves as ACDI/VOCA’s country representative in Liberia. Previously, Glenn served as a senior agriculture advisor and resident country director for the Millennium Challenge Corporation in Madagascar and as the regional director for the USAID-funded Landscaped Development Interventions (LDI) and Ranomafana National Park Project (RNPP). He started his international development career as a Peace Corps water and sanitation volunteer in the Democratic Republic of Congo.