PROSPER Report: Best Practices for Community-based Low Impact Timber Harvesting in Liberia

In May 2012, Tetra Tech was contracted by USAID Liberia to implement the PROSPER Program. The goal of the five-year program is to “introduce, operationalize, and refine appropriate models for the community management of forest resources for local self-governance and enterprise development in targeted areas.”

That goal is to be achieved through the accomplishment of three major objectives:

  • Expanded educational and institutional capacity to improve environmental awareness, Natural Resources Management (NRM), biodiversity conservation, and environmental compliance
  • Improved community-based forest management, leading to more sustainable practices and reduced threats to biodiversity in target areas
  • Enhanced community-based livelihoods derived from sustainable forest-based and agriculture-based enterprises in target areas

With assistance from the international community, Liberia has developed a strong legal framework to support community forestry, and is supporting pilots in 11 community forests in Nimba and Grand Bassa Counties. PROSPER and its predecessor project, the Land Rights and Community Forestry Program (LRCFP) have worked extensively on community-based livelihoods in and around community forests by building a greater understanding of the income-generation opportunities of non-timber forest products, and through work on sustainable agricultural practices. Community forestry is in its nascent stages in Liberia, and its potential benefits to communities and to Liberia’s development generally are not understood. More importantly, community forestry could play a critical role in the management of Liberia’s forestry sector and serve to balance a sector that is currently managed largely for and by foreign commercial interests through concession agreements. Additional enterprise development opportunities may exist in and around community forests related to sustainable wood-based enterprises.

However, these opportunities are poorly understood in terms of:

  • the existing natural resource base;
  • necessary rural infrastructure (transport and energy);
  • technical and administrative human capacity to develop and manage rural forest product enterprises;
  • value-added products;
  • economics of supply and demand; and
  • required investment (capital and knowledge).

In Liberia, commercial timber concessions are the primary means of exploiting timber resources. However, the opportunities for communities to participate in these markets are poorly understood. The dynamics of domestic timber production and opportunities for micro-scale harvesting, processing, and trade are not widely understood within the development community.

While PROSPER has been promoting forest management mainly based on the use of non-timber products, different circumstances have led to the need to incorporate the potential for timber product management. To be able to properly harvest forest products, the operations must incorporate appropriate planning practices, and forests must be managed based on best applicable practices to promote and achieve the sustainable management of forests.

Some prior efforts by the PROSPER Project have been aimed at training staff and community members on the appropriate procedures for planning forest management operations. In this sense, important efforts have been carried out in order to train personnel on implementing forest inventories and censuses and thus obtain the information required for planning management operations.

This report is part of the efforts to promote forest management that considers low impact timber production, among the communities assisted by PROSPER as an alternative to improve their living conditions and conserve the forest in the long term.

The report provides information on the best practices that should be incorporated into forestry activities in order to start on the path towards sustainable management and to ensure that forests are sustainably managed in the future.

As detailed below, forest management is a process and the main point to eventually attain sustainability is to start that process. If sustainability is viewed purely from a scientific or theoretical standpoint, on-ground action may never start, as all the necessary information and infrastructure to assure sustainability of the operation may be insufficient. This PRACTICAL guide proposes that management may be initiated through a set of basic activities, that may not be all necessary, but that will enable the commencing of the process.

It is likely that looking for an ideal situation may lead us to fall in that never ending discourse on what sustainable management is and is not, while the forests continues to be degraded through deforestation; as a result of stakeholders resorting to uninformed destructive short-term economic activities. It is possible that at the onset of the process not all the scientific or theoretical requirements may be complied with, not due to unwillingness to do so but simply because the conditions to fulfill them are not there.

This report constitutes a practical guide for forestry technicians, forest stakeholders, community leaders, and government officials involved in work with communities. The report has been developed using plain language in order to facilitate its application and promote its use. The extent to which the different topics are dealt with is based on the author’s experiences in Liberia in 2014, 2015 and 2016, including the field work and the needs identified during this field work. Also, the necessary level of detail and the way of presenting the topics have been discussed with the PROSPER staff and implementing partners that are in direct contact with the end users of this product.

This report has a sole and clear purpose; to promote forest conservation through responsible use in order for the forest to fulfill the functions required by its owners and users. Forest conservation is not pursued just to protect the forest, but instead to benefit the communities that need to use the forest and have preserved it so far and are, therefore, the main stakeholders for its conservation. Forest conservation cannot be considered without utilization or not taking into accounts the communities living in or around the forests.

This document refers to the best practices applied to the processes to start and implement Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) focusing on local communities, emphasizing timber and non-timber products; the former as they have the best potential to increase immediate socio-economic benefits and the latter due to its connotations for the current livelihoods of the communities in Liberia.

The term “immediate”, however, does not mean that we are to forgo long-term benefits such as wildlife and environmental services that are also part of SFM. Experience with this type of processes suggests that if we help local communities in starting actions in search of quick financial returns through the two products mentioned above, good incentives will be in place for the communities to continue learning from SFM and together with their social interaction processes, define and design high-value relationships with the market, implement suitable mechanisms to participate and collectively manage the benefits accrued, increase their technical capabilities to sustain SFM in a competitive way, embark in new processes to add value to their products or services, and learn to avoid or resolve conflicts, among others.

Reality, in this case, is simple. We can either start a process to organize how the forest is used in a process that includes some basic planning activities that can be carried out with the communities, or instead follow a course of NOT doing anything as we may:

  • not have all the necessary information
  • lack all the capacities needed in the field
  • not know the impacts that forest use may have, or
  • lack all the information on how to manage forest resources, both timber and non-timber, and allow the forest to gradually disappear while we try to obtain all the necessary scientific knowledge required.

As stated above, the main consequence of NOT doing anything may be the disappearance of the forest in the very short-term.