Community forestry in Liberia is currently seen as a front for commercial logging and its resultant deforestation. The Community Rights Law of Liberia that was passed in 2009 has given rise to the establishment of community forest across the country. There is a total of 40 community forest management areas (CFMA) that have been approved by the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) with a total size of 814,760.98 hectares. Out of this 40 approved CFMA, 5 CFMAs (14,814 hectares) are completely focusing on conservation activities whilst 3 CFMAs (34,036 hectares) are focusing on both conservation and commercial activities. The remaining 32 are concentrating only on commercial activities and are realizing tangible benefits from the community forests they are managing.
A global witness report in 2018 alleges that logging companies are using a number of tricks to undermine community forestry who seize control over community forests before permits have even been awarded to communities; draw communities into secret pacts by working with local elites who have not been formally elected by the people to represent their interests; and exploit legal loopholes to take advantage of weaker areas of regulation to maximize their profits. Currently, there is an estimated 133 applications for CFMA permits (covering an area of 4.3m hectares), only because they have already signed contract with a logging company who is supporting them with finances for the application. More worrying is the fact that most of these CFMAs with commercial interest do not have management plans or have outdated management plans. With this, there is an increasing risk that the few CFMAs that have interest for conservation will also enter into commercial activities if they do not realize tangible conservation benefits from conserving their community forests.
The national union of community forest management bodies (NUCFMB) which is an umbrella organization for all community forest governance structures is advocating for support for these community forests with
conservation interest as there is a clear risk that if this is not addressed immediately, CFMAs will be degraded beyond redemption within a few years, thereby defeating the very purpose for which they were established. There are also rising concerns between community forest governance structures and their respective local communities about transparency and accountability on how the community forest is managed.
SESDev with support from Siemenpuu will support two local communities to improve on sustainability practices in terms of environmental conservation, resource governance and rural livelihoods in the management of their community forests. These communities forests include Central Morweh community forest in Rivercess County and Gba Community Forest in Nimba County respectively.