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 first annual PROSPER-supported outreach campaign, submitted in fulfillment of Contract Deliverable no. 5, presents an overview of the preparation and implementation of an intensive three-month public outreach and awareness campaign on community forestry and environmental issues conducted from May to July 2013 under the theme, “Make Community Forestry Rights Real”.
The report provides synopses of the approaches and best practices used to plan, prepare, and implement the campaign, and highlights of the campaign launch events as well as activities covered during the campaign rollout. The report also gives a brief background of the outreach campaign and describes some of the major challenges encountered.
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 recent, 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 date, 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%.
Four years following the passage of the Community Rights Law (CRL) in 2009 and the subsequent promulgation of the CRL Regulations, the Government of Liberia and the FDA have made no significant effort to 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 are 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 August 2012, USAID/PROSPER supported a two-day intensive workshop held in Kakata focused on the Community Forestry Working Group (CFWG) which had been dormant for over fifteen months. The CFWG was established by the FDA in 2007 to facilitate input from communities and other key stakeholders into the development and eventual implementation of laws and policies relevant to community forestry, including the National Forestry Reform Law, the Community Rights Law, and regulations guiding their implementation.
The primary objectives of the workshop were to assess the status of the CFWG in the hope of reactivating the group and strengthening its capacity to assume the role of conducting public outreach on environmental issues and community forestry. Since outreach was the main thrust of the workshop, the 32 participants drawn from agencies of Government, civil society organizations (CSOs) and private sector institutions shared experiences, lessons learned and best practices related to outreach and advanced ideas and themes on how to strengthen outreach campaigns to increase public awareness and understanding in community forestry. Two months later, in October 2012, 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. Both the August and October workshops 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.