Ezekiel Geeplay/LFMW-Sinoe County
The idea behind the Community Rights Act 2009 (CRL) was to give communities the right to control, protect and manage their forests and resources.
But lack of funding and ignorance of the possibility of managing the forest themselves has led many communities to give their forests to commercial operators to harvest logs/timber.
These commercial use contracts however have not existed without challenges such as non-compliance and illegal logging by companies on the one hand and embezzlement and mismanagement of revenues by the leaders of some communities in somewhere else.
Despite these challenges, some communities are standing firm to ensure that revenues received from businesses are used to develop their communities. Nor has it happened without the necessary capacity building support for local and international development organizations. Sawacajua Forest Community in Sinoe County is one such community that benefited from said training in August 2018.
The training enabled community members to document illegal logging activities, monitor the implementation of commercial use contracts (CUCs) signed between communities and companies, and resolve and mitigate difficulties. access to forest benefits using forest monitoring tools.
Also in January 2019, SDI conducted a two-day training on record keeping and bookkeeping for community forest managers in Sawacajua as part of an FAO-funded project: “Strengthening community forest structures and their governance ». The two-day training strengthened their technical capacities to document and manage community archives, record all financial transactions and manage community funds.
Four years later, community logging leaders in Sawacajua have built three key social infrastructures with revenue received from the Mandra logging company. Under the Community Forest Management Act, companies must pay US$1.25 per hectare per year as a land rental fee to communities. The law states that 55% of this sum must go to the community, while the rest goes to the government. “These infrastructures, including the clinic, the town hall and the police station, are the first of their kind in our community,” said Morris Suah, president of the executive committee. The Forest Management Directorate estimated the cost of the projects at just over US$77,000 (seventy-seven thousand).
“The potential of sustainable community forest management to support local development cannot be overstated, provided all parties act in accordance with the law. Imagine a community building a police station themselves using logging revenue, when all we know is that only the government can build a police station,” said Jonathan Yiah of the program. of forest governance from the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI).
Jonathan believes that communities can do better if forest revenues are received directly. “In this case, the people themselves decide what is good for them and make sure they implement it to the fullest, as we see now in the case of Sawacajua.
The guest house built in the forest community
The Chief Officer of the Sawacajua Community Committee set up to oversee the logging contract (the Community Forest Management Body, or CFMB), Oliver Clarke, and the Chairman of the Executive Committee (EC) to which the CFMB is accountable, both called the development a milestone in the history of community forestry in Liberia. Both officials praised Mandra Company for paying their land rental and cubic meter fees, and therefore encouraged them to continue.
“Indeed, today we can boast of having a modern police station in Bilibocree, a college in the town of Chebioh, a modern guest house in Gbalawinee and several hand pumps in the forest communities thanks to the revenue collected from these concession companies operating in our forest” says Olivier Clarke.
Community members are optimistic about the ongoing infrastructure development in their community. Elder Bobby Sampson says “We are eternally grateful to the management of the company who saw the need to carry out these tasks in accordance with the agreements signed with them”.
Mandra Logging Company Human Resources Manager Kwekue Quedy said his company remains committed to its corporate social responsibility to the community, adding that the company should do more in line with the agreement it signed. with communities.
The road to the realization of these essential social infrastructures by the community of Sawacajua has been strewn with pitfalls. In May 2019, the community fired CFMB officials over allegations of misrepresentation, mismanagement, and embezzlement of entrusted funds.
In January 2020, Sawacajua’s new forest management body issued several complaints to Mandara Company management, informing the company of its failure to implement the CUC reached between the company and the community. Following this, a decision to stop the operations of the company was taken by the community. But the Forest Development Authority (FDA) intervened later, at which time the company promised to keep its promises. After several months of follow-up, community members say the company has again failed to deliver on the promise it made to the FDA.
In July 2021, the community of Sawacajua sued Mandra Logging Company for non-compliance. Well, after a long journey, the people of the Sawacajua community are today celebrating a major infrastructure upgrade through their tenacity, bravery and high level of organization in convincing Mandra Logging Company to comply with an agreement that they she had concluded with the citizens of Sawacajua.