The PROSPER program scope of work notes that “The successful management of Liberia’s natural resources depends not only on government agencies and communities directly responsible for their management, but also on an educated citizenry that can make informed decisions about the use and management of these resources by government agencies, the private sector, and communities.” To contribute to building an educated citizenry, PROSPER is charged by USAID with working with key institutions to build their capacity to develop effective outreach campaigns to communicate information that will lead to changes in the way citizens think about and make decision about their natural resources.
This report of the “Public outreach and awareness building approaches field tested with relevant GOL agencies (FDA), target communities, and other identified stakeholders along the themes of sustainable natural resource management, land tenure and property rights, environmental compliance, and community-based forest management”, is submitted in fulfillment of Contract Deliverable no. 5a.
The report provides a synopsis of the approaches and best practices used to plan, prepare, and implement the annual campaigns on community forestry issues in keeping with the Community Rights Law (CRL) and the CRL Regulations. It highlights some of the launch events of the fourth annual outreach campaign as well as activities covered during the campaign rollout. Finally, the report describes the evolution of the different channels of communication over the course of the PROSPER project.
The absence of effective public education and awareness efforts in Liberia concerning environmental and natural resource issues hampers efforts to implement policies aimed at the sustainable management of Liberia’s forest resources. The highly-publicized private use permit (PUP) scandal, alleged fraudulent community forest applications, and other instances of non-compliance with major forest policies and laws have provided clear evidence of the Forestry Development Authority’s (FDA) limited capacity to impact and change behaviors through sensitization in the forestry sector. Liberia’s failure to harness effective public education to avert the pillage of its forest resources has contributed to the rapid, ongoing decline of the Upper Guinea Forest of which Liberia is home to nearly 40%.
Several years following the passage of the Community Rights Law (CRL) in 2009 and the subsequent promulgation of the CRL Regulations in 2011, the Government of Liberia and the FDA did not disseminate those important laws that recognize and legitimize the role of local communities in the management and governance of the country’s forest resources. Hence, the integrity of valuable forests resources and biodiversity and the rights of forest communities were still being undermined by threats such as illegal logging and poaching, and by concession agriculture and mining schemes approved without informed, prior consent of communities.
In response to these issues, PROSPER in collaboration with the FDA re-activated the CFWG in 2012. In October of that year, the CFWG met in Monrovia where it reconsolidated, and with PROSPER’s facilitation began developing messages and designing strategies it would apply during the pilot testing of the first outreach campaign. This work represented an application of formative communications research, a best practice that involves conducting focus groups or interviews with key stakeholders on the issues that affect them and using that information to guide the design of communications campaigns and materials.
The CFWG agreed that the goal of the first outreach campaign was to address the overarching problem of high community forest degradation and depletion in Liberia due to:
- Lack of knowledge about community forestry rights, which:
- Prevents communities from being able to effectively negotiate with third-party investors who are able to lease and exploit large areas of community forest land, displacing communities and destroying community forest land
- Prevents communities from seeing the value of putting in place community forest management systems, without which there are no safeguards for preventing degradation
- Keeps communities in poverty and increases conflict between neighbors and within families
- Lack of knowledge about sustainable forest use practices among communities, and particularly among women, who are primary users of the forest resources; this lack of knowledge has harmful environmental effects
- Attitudes that lead community members to focus on personal gain and benefits from forest use, rather than the broader interest of the community and country
- Behavior of local authorities, who may pressure communities to engage in unfair transactions or may execute transactions without community input for personal gain
- Behavior of community members, who engage in unsustainable shifting cultivation and slash-and-burn farming. Farmers typically move agricultural activities to a new part of the forest every three years because soil fertility becomes depleted.
The first annual campaign was followed up with a second campaign, which focused on the process of managing community forests and strengthening public understanding of the CRL. Ten key messages on the CRL and community forestry management were developed in collaboration with the CFWG. The audience focus expanded to include policy makers and government ministries as well as broader stakeholders across Liberia.
Carrying forward lessons learned from the first annual outreach campaign, the second campaign supported communities in taking control of the campaign from design to implementation. This included PROSPER supporting community forestry leaders in planning their rollout activities and in developing budgets that were used for community outreach focused on the CRL and other community forestry management issues. The outcomes and lessons learned from the first two outreach campaigns informed the planning and subsequent implementation of the communication approaches for the Fourth Annual CF Outreach campaign in Q2 of FY16.