Following years of destructive civil war, illegal lumber trafficking and massive fraud to fuel conflict, Liberia passed a forestry law last night in line with new policies drawn up with United Nations help to ensure that the people of the impoverished West African country benefit from this major foreign currency earner.
“The new forestry policy aims to maximize the benefits from the forestry sector to the Liberian people and put an end to the use of forest resources to fund conflict,” UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) forestry officer Adrian Whiteman said. “The Liberian Forestry Development Authority is now in a position to regain authority and control over the forest resources.”
The new legislation will allow implementation of Liberia’s first-ever forestry policy, which FAO helped develop with numerous international partners through the Liberia Forest Initiative, balancing the community, conservation and commercial uses to produce a range of goods and services for the benefit of all Liberians.
The policy underscores the importance of community involvement, which did not exist before. It emphasizes the importance of good governance. Its objective is to give more equitable access to forest resources to reduce the potential for future conflict. Together with numerous international partners, FAO is helping to develop staff, skills and means to regain control over forest resources.
“We plan to continue supporting the Liberian forestry authorities so that their forests may again be used to benefit all Liberians and to alleviate poverty,” Mr. Whiteman said.
Forests account for 47 per cent of Liberia’s land. In the late 1990s, their contribution to the gross domestic product amounted to about 20 per cent and accounted for over 50 per cent of the country's export earnings. Between 1989 and 2003, revenue from forests was used to fund armed conflict, forcing the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on timber exports in July 2003.
When international support for better forest management began in June 2004, the sector was in complete disarray. There was no experienced leadership, a weak understanding of the importance of good governance and no ability to enforce rules and regulations. A distorted concession system that had led to massive fraud also plagued the sector.