Liberia is home to over half the remaining rainforest in West Africa, with almost 45% of the country, roughly 4.3 million ha, covered by forest. Liberia has made significant efforts to strengthen forest management through legal reform. These reforms provide a framework to improve transparency, good governance and sustainability and provide a strong basis for community rights in relation to forestland management. While these legal reforms have been lauded internationally, actual implementation of the law has been limited by limited capacity and resources in the FDA.
The Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), a bilateral agreement between the European Union (EU) and the Government of Liberia (GOL), aims to reinforce this reform agenda, and improve forest governance overall, by implementing legality standards for timber products and supporting capacity development at the FDA to monitor these standards. The VPA sets the requirements to establish a legally assured system for Liberian timber for both international and domestic markets. The requirements outlined in the VPA will be implemented by the GOL, primarily by the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), through the support of the EU and other bi-lateral donors. To date, engagement under the VPA has been limited to communities that are “affected” by commercial logging contracts, and thus entitled to benefits sharing. These communities have also been engaged through a multi-stakeholder platform to assist in the design and implementation of the VPA. While addressing community benefits from commercial logging operations and participation in forestry governance are positive, and in line with the National Forest Reform Law (NFRL) of 2006, implementation of the VPA has largely left out a key aspect of community involvement, namely communities as owners of the forest resources, with the agency to conduct commercial timber extraction.