PROSPER The “Nine Steps” Handbook: Checklist for Establishing A Forest Community (2017)

Community forestry is the management of forest resources by communities for commercial and non-commercial purposes to further their own livelihoods and development. Under the Liberian Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands (CRL), communities are granted legal rights over the areas of forest resources they have traditionally used, once they have completed the procedure elaborated in the Regulation to the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands, as Amended (CRL Regulation). This requires following a nine-step process (“the Nine Steps”) to ensure that members of the community fully understand and support the application for Authorized Forest Community (AFC) status. It also requires the establishment of representative bodies with their own governing rules, to regulate the use of forest resources and ensure the effective administration of the AFC. Once the Nine Steps have been completed, a management plan to provide a framework for the use, access, and sustainable management of forest resources must also be drafted. These requirements are explained in the CRL Regulation.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been supporting the development of community forestry in Liberia since 2007 through two community forestry projects implemented by Tetra Tech and other partners: the Liberia Land Rights and Community Forestry Program (LRCFP); and the People, Rules and Organizations Supporting the Protection of Ecosystem Resources (PROSPER) Project. Through these programs, USAID strives to build the capacity of local partners and encourage better coordination between governmental, non-governmental, academic, and private sector organizations involved in forestry and community forestry.

Purpose of the Manual

This manual provides a procedural structure and checklist to be used by members of the Forestry Development Authority’s (FDA) Community Forestry Department (CFD) – and other stakeholders within the forestry sector – to ensure that the Nine Steps, as established in the CRL Regulation, are rigorously applied. Although it is not explicitly stated in the CRL Regulation, the Nine Steps clearly establish the criteria for securing communities’ free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), which is required under Section 2.2 (c) of the CRL (“Any decision, agreement or activity affecting the status or use of community forest resources shall not proceed without the prior, free, informed consent of the said community”). This is a crucial point, because failure to meet the statutory requirement for FPIC can have serious legal implications, especially for those who wish to enter into agreements with AFCs to commercially exploit forest resources.

Structure of the Manual

The structure of the manual reflects the nine-step process, as elaborated in the CRL Regulation. The Nine Steps are separated into individual sections, with each step further broken down into series of activities, all of which will need to be completed before the community can proceed further along in the process. Each activity has a corresponding set of indicators, which establish the actions to be measured and/or registered, in order to demonstrate that the required activities are being conducted. Finally, and most importantly for ensuring that all legal requirements have been satisfied, each activity has a list of actions and/or documents that need to be recorded and verified, as part of the due diligence process.

Within each of the activity sections is a grey box, which outlines some of the considerations for reducing costs and improving efficiency. Also within each grey box is an estimation of the maximum amount of time it should take to complete each of the activities.

How to Use this Manual

The manual is, to a large extent, instructional, in that it sets out the various steps that need to be followed, and the order in which they are to be carried out. FDA officials and other stakeholders within the forestry sector should use the manual as a guide to the process, to ensure that all legal standards have been satisfied. Each Activity and Step needs to be completed in its entirety before the community is permitted to proceed to the next Activity and Step.

Each section begins with a brief overview of the legal requirements that need to be satisfied before the Step is completed, which is then broken down into Activities, Indicators and Means of Verification, as explained above. Users of the manual should follow this basic approach:

  1. Familiarize themselves with the legal requirements that need to be met for the Step they are working on to be completed, as laid out in the overview of the section;
  2. Review the first Activity that needs to be completed and, if supporting the process, make appropriate arrangements;
  3. Ensure that the relevant Indicators are being recorded;
  4. Verify that the evidence collected meets the criteria established in the checklist;
  5. Following verification, move on to the next Activity or Step.
  6. Repeat until all of the Nine Steps have been completed.