PROSPER Manual: Making Community Forest Rights Real (2017)

SBCC interventions are critical to a community’s ability to access its community resource rights, natural resource management and conservation programs in Liberia. Public education, awareness, and engagement with key stakeholders—including government counterparts, the private sector, and communities—must complement policy and procedural reform efforts to successfully foster the commitment and behaviors needed to fully protect and maximize the value of a community’s natural resource assets.

In recent years, Liberia’s environmental sector has been plagued by a series of high- profile scandals, including those related to private-use-permits (PUP), fraudulent community forest applications, and other instances of non-compliance with major forest policies and laws. These incidents have contributed to the devastating loss of community forest in Liberia, with total forest coverage dropping rapidly over the last decade. Lack of public education on effective natural resource management and alternative livelihood practices, combined with a lack of public knowledge of Liberia’s forest laws, policies, and procedures has allowed for forest loss on a massive scale.

Contributing to this is the limited capacity of Liberian actors to conduct the outreach needed to inform communities about their rights and change behaviors. For example, in 2009, the Government of Liberia passed the Community Rights Law (CRL), which formally protects a community’s rights to forest resources. Lack of the ability to educate the public on the law and its implications for communities, however, has prevented communities from accessing their rights in practice. Many communities are unaware of the policies that have been put in place to protect them, and do not understand the legitimate role they play in the management of Liberia’s forest resources. This lack of knowledge and know-how increases community vulnerability to illegal logging and poaching, concession agriculture, and mining schemes that are approved by local actors without the free prior informed consent of communities.

The People, Rules and Organizations Supporting the Protection of Ecosystem Resources (PROSPER) Project supports the Forest Development Authority (FDA) and other government actors and civil society groups to help communities understand their forest conservation and commercialization options, enabling them to make informed decisions about what to do with their community forests without being coerced or otherwise influenced by outside actors. The communications goal of the project is to arm communities with the information they need to be empowered to use their forest resources in the best way they see fit, foster an attitude of ownership and empowerment, and encourage sustainable forest use behaviors.

PROSPER utilized an SBCC approach to the design the “Make Community Forestry Rights Real” campaign, which increases public education and awareness of community forestry issues. Using this approach, the project collaborated closely with key stakeholders and target audiences to design, create, and implement effective outreach and awareness activities, while building the capacity of government and civil society organizations to design and conduct successful and sustainable campaigns in the future.

Working with these stakeholders, PROSPER built capacity to research, design, create, and implement communication strategies that will increase community and government understanding of community forest rights issues, and change the way citizens think and make decisions about their natural resources. This manual illustrates the best practices and steps the project used to design an effective social and behavior change communication campaign that encourages natural resource management and environmental conservation in Liberia.