Liberia is going through a major transformation. For decades, the country had low deforestation rates, but with economic recovery came increased deforestation from subsistence farming, the oil palm industry, mining, logging and other drivers. However, since REDD+ was introduced to the country in 2007, the government has been working with local, forest-dependent communities to plan integrated land uses that will create sustainable economies and reduce emissions.
“REDD+ is the best platform at this moment to discuss and implement land use changes,” says Mr. Saah A. David Jr, Liberia’s National REDD+ Coordinator. “It’s become a catalyst around how we use land in Liberia and how we move forward in developing and implementing a national land use plan.”
According to FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015, 43 percent of Liberia is covered with forests, and a large proportion of the rural population is dependent on them. These are particularly vulnerable communities for whom forest products and ecosystem services serve as an economic and social safety net, especially in times of political unrest. For Liberians, to protect the country’s forests means to protect its people. Thanks in part to a law created in 2009 by the Liberian government that empowers communities as owners of the forest, the REDD+ process has prioritized local communities in the process of designing and implementing land use management initiatives in the country.
“REDD+ is not only associated with carbon,” said Mr. David. “It also contributes to various multiple benefits such as stakeholder engagement that brings together civil society, local communities, smallholders, government, donors and other partners to identify strategies, policies and actions needed for sustainable and equitable use of forest resources. Communities are at the heart of what we do in Liberia. Our National REDD+ Strategy has five strategic priorities and communities are at the center of each of them. It is essential to ensure that women, men and youth are rightfully involved in the process. Doing so can help contribute to the effectiveness of local forest monitoring systems and increase ownership and sustainability of REDD+.”
One of the latest REDD+ developments in Liberia is the launch of the first Liberian National Forest Inventory (NFI). This new inventory is the first of its kind within the country and will be the first time national estimates of forest resources are produced. The NFI is an important tool in monitoring land use changes to develop strategies to reduce deforestation. It also allows Liberia to collect the necessary data to submit the country’s first forest reference emission level (FREL) to the UNFCCC, and ultimately, to access future results-based payments.
The NFI will produce vital information supporting sustainable forest management activities, which in the future will benefit local communities through the implementation and enhancement of key livelihood activities. Communities will thus be engaged in the process of measuring and monitoring these activities. At the government level, findings from this important socio-economic survey will be used to develop new and update existing forest management policies that will benefit both communities and the country. But most importantly, the data will give Liberia a deeper understanding of how communities are using the forests.
“We have made a tremendous effort, and we have achieved a lot in the last decade, especially given the impact of the Ebola crisis,” says Mr. David. “We are leaders in REDD+ in the sub-region of West Africa and we are excited that in the coming years we will be able to create more protected areas. In the last year alone, we created two new protected areas and increased the awareness of our people that forests are for more than exporting timber.”