A two-day Forest Advocacy and Engagement Workshop for non-state actors has been held in Monrovia with call on community residents to focus more on positive advocacy in the management of forest.
Volunteers to Support International Efforts in Developing Africa (VOSIEDA) organized the program with funding support from European Union through Tropenbos International and co-funded by Tropenbos International under the Green Livelihood Alliance (GLA) Project.
Held at Corina Hotel, the workshop brought together participants from 4 counties, including Lofa, Sinoe, Gbarpolu and Montserrado Counties.
Giving the overview of the workshop, the Program Manager of Forest, Environment, and Natural Resource Management (FENRM), Abraham Billy said, the two days’ workshop is intended to build knowledge of participants in “Grassroots” or “bottom‐up” approaches to advocacy with emphasis in community forest’s monitoring and identification of needs and goals by community members themselves.
“It will empower participants to reflect and act collectively and independently”, Billy emphasized.
He indicated that, instead of advocating on behalf of the community, residents of the community will now be used to advocate on their own rights using professional staff of non‐profit organizations, including but may not be limited to NGO Coalition, Civil Society Independent Forest Monitor (CS-IFM), National Union of Community Forest Development Council (NUCFDC), Community Forest Monitoring Body (CFMB), National Charcoal Union, Chainsaw Union of Liberia and Liberia Timber Union among others.
The soft talking Program Manager described the workshop as critical to the success of advocacy’s efforts in Liberia, stressing, it will help to change some of the wrong approaches or methods used in advocacy by engaging key stakeholders to avoid challenges encounter during such advocacy.
He explained how many institutions are being recorded of not engaging key stakeholders to conduct fact finding in substantiating the information they gathered as it relates to forest management.
Therefore, Billy intoned, the workshop also seeks to address the issues of misinformation and empower non-state actors in conducting fact-based research intended to support advocacy.
“Building the capacity of community members through existing CBOs in advocacy and engagement strategies could lead to many taking positions on issues confronting the communities and initiating actions in a deliberate attempt to influence private and public policies”, noted Abraham Billy.
According to him, provision of wrong information could serve as a basis for a non-redress approach, lamenting that, the most common evidence in Liberia is “they say”.
Meanwhile, the Program Manager of Forest, Environment, and Natural Resource Management has cautioned members of the media to engage in robust advocacy through their various reportage.
He wants journalists who covered the workshop to take advantage of the training opportunity to enhance their capacity in forest management reporting intended to safe the sector.
As VOSIEDA and other advocacy institutions continue to support the forest sector, experts still believe that more work is needed to address challenges facing the sector, such as untimely implementation of social agreements, poor forest contract management and amendment of some forest laws and regulations as well as low capacity of campaigners.
In addition, the lack of advocacy and stakeholder engagement skills has resulted to series of demonstrations across the county, particularly in concession areas. On the over all, the limited community’s participation in forest governance programs has increased tensions among citizens in the concession areas which has led to the destruction of lives and properties.
It is interesting to note that some of the CFDC, CFMB, Youth and Women Organizations working in the forestry sector have limited or no knowledge to follow up on the implementation of social agreements.
Hence, they are likely to use violence as the last option to draw the attention of relevant authorities in ensuring compliance.
Few years ago, Sinoe County became a scene of continuous eruption of violence in the concession area of Golden Veroleum-Liberia, over what residents referred to as total neglect of social responsibilities by the company including the destruction of traditional shrines.
In most African countries, personal interests of concern government officials in forest concessions against the interest of members of host communities continues to undermined the economic and social progress of citizens.
For instance, global forest experts and watch dog institutions
(Global Witness) reported that about 66 out of the over 100 concessions singed by the Liberian Government, particularly under the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf leadership, did not meet the necessary legal requirements.