By E. J. Nathaniel Daygbor
Liberia, a West African nation founded in the 19th century by freed American slaves, is a country of immense natural beauty and rich biodiversity.
However, this natural wealth is under threat due to the extensive deforestation and logging activities that have taken place over the years.
Deforestation and logging pose significant environmental, economic, and social challenges for Liberia, despite recent efforts to address these issues.
This essay will explore the complex issues surrounding deforestation and logging in Liberia. It will delve into the historical context, the causes of deforestation, the environmental impacts, economic repercussions, and the efforts made by the Liberian government and international organizations to combat this problem.
Ultimately, it will argue for the importance of sustainable forest management and the need to strike a balance between economic development and environmental conservation to ensure a better future for Liberia.
Early Logging Activities
Liberia has a long history of logging activities, dating back to the early 20th century when foreign companies started exploiting the country’s vast forest resources.
These activities were initially seen as a means of economic development and were primarily driven by foreign interests.
Civil Wars and the Impact on Forestry
The Liberian civil wars that raged from 1989 to 2003 had a devastating impact on the country’s forests. Rebel groups financed their activities through the illegal timber trade, leading to widespread deforestation, corruption, and destruction of vital forest infrastructure.
After the civil wars, Liberia struggled to rebuild its economy and infrastructure. Logging remained a prominent industry, but the government attempted to bring some order to the sector by introducing regulations and attracting foreign investment.
However, these efforts were not without challenges.
Causes of Deforestation in Liberia
One of the primary causes of deforestation in Liberia is the conversion of forests into agricultural land. Small-scale farmers, often driven by subsistence needs, clear large areas of forest for crop cultivation.
Commercial logging is another major contributor to deforestation. Logging companies, both domestic and international, engage in unsustainable practices that lead to the depletion of forest resources.
Liberia is rich in mineral resources, and mining operations often require clearing vast tracts of forest. The mineral extraction industry, while contributing to economic growth, has negative environmental consequences.
Charcoal production is a significant driver of deforestation in Liberia. The demand for charcoal, often used as a primary cooking fuel, leads to excessive tree cutting and forest degradation.
“The average per-capita charcoal consumption in Liberia is estimated at 64.3kg per annum. With a population of nearly 5 million, this results in annual charcoal consumption of 321,500 tons, which corresponds to more than 25 million trees being cut per annum for charcoal production
Environmental Impacts of Deforestation
Deforestation releases this carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change.
Climate change is already having a significant impact on Liberia, including more extreme weather events, such as floods and droughts.
Loss of Biodiversity
The threats to Liberia’s biodiversity include increasing population pressure, competition for biological resources for food, shelter, and energy, plantation crops in areas of high conservation value, the outdated slash and burn shifting cultivation, poaching and hunting, unregulated timber extraction, charcoal burning
Liberia’s forests are home to a wide range of unique and endangered species. Deforestation threatens these species with habitat loss, leading to a decline in biodiversity.
The removal of trees from forested areas increases the risk of soil erosion, negatively impacting agricultural productivity and the quality of rivers and streams.
In Sub-Sahara Africa, water and wind erosion account for 77 percent of the region’s soil degradation. Liberia has been identified as one of the areas most seriously affected by erosion
Forests play a vital role in carbon sequestration, and their destruction contributes to climate change. Liberia’s deforestation adds to global carbon emissions, exacerbating the climate crisis.
Climate change is projected to increase temperatures and impact water availability across Liberia; some areas may also experience flooding due to increased intensity of rainfall, coastal erosion and sea-level rise.
Sea level rise: Population density and low elevation coastal zones. Monrovia is especially vulnerable to sea level rise.
60% of the population of Liberia lives along the coast. Sea level rise is expected to put pressure on a number of populations, including communities in slums such as the West Point Slum, and incur losses of US$250 million.
High evaporation, changes in seasonal rainfall patterns, and runoff increases are expected to lead to decreased water and worse water quality. Additionally, by the 2020s the Mount Coffee Hydropower Project is expected to have challenges with maintaining water supply. Moreover, sea level rise is expected to cause increase salinization in important coastal communities
Water Resource Depletion
Forests are essential for maintaining water quality and regulating water flow. Deforestation can lead to the depletion of water resources and increased vulnerability to droughts and floods.
While logging and other extractive industries can provide short-term economic benefits, the depletion of forest resources can lead to long-term economic losses.
Once the forests are gone, the economic benefits disappear.
Changes in climate can affect agricultural lands and production, and threaten agricultural livelihoods.
Increases in total annual rainfall and in the number of heavy rainfall events may cause floods that erode and inundate agricultural land surfaces, subsequently reducing soil quality and threatening crop yields.
. Revenue Leakage
Historically, Liberia has struggled to capture the full economic value of its forest resources. Corruption and poor governance have allowed companies to exploit these resources without providing fair compensation to the country.
According to the Global Voice, These are just some of the numbers that illustrate Africa’s massive revenue loss, which has already become an endemic crisis for which the governments of the continent have yet to find a vaccine.
However, some countries are already investing in “medicines”, such as solutions based on data analysis technologies.
The latter can greatly alleviate the effects of these attacks on the continent’s economy, thanks to the detection and prediction of the illicit activities that cause these massive losses of income.
Technology, cause and solution of the continent’s revenue leakage
As digitization has progressed in the world, new forms of fraud and corruption have appeared, adding to the already-existing threats.
Africa loses almost 10 billion USD a year, due only to illicit activities born of technological variants such as mobile phones or the Internet.
To be exact, 150 million USD are lost to SIM box fraud, 3.5 billion to cybercrime, and 5 billion to mobile fraud every year, according to the Journal of Mobile Computing & Application, Data protect, and Evina, respectively.
Ironically, technology is also the most powerful medicine to heal the African economy.
Big data solutions, when installed at the heart of a country’s economic intelligence, provide decision-makers with profound insights on the country’s economic behavior, which improves the decision- and policy-making processes, thus remedying the lack of oversight capabilities that allows the revenue leakage disease to take hold.
Fraud in both the financial and telecommunications sectors may be an infectious and debilitating illness, but tech companies, fintech’s and retches are working to provide governments with digital tools that will help them not only to neutralize the existing epidemic, but also to prevent new strains.
Impact on Local Communities
Deforestation can displace indigenous communities and undermine their traditional livelihoods.
These communities often suffer from the negative environmental consequences of deforestation without receiving adequate compensation.
Efforts to Combat Deforestation in Liberia
Liberia has made multiple commitments to reduce deforestation, both to the UN Climate Convention and through its bilateral forest partnership agreement with Norway.
An action plan, outlining opportunities to reduce emissions from deforestation has been made and endorsed.
These are deep-seated problems. Timber played a significant role in funding the two civil wars that raged in the country between 1989 and 2003.
Revenue from illegal exploitation of timber—alongside diamonds and rubber—fuelled the conflict and armed the combatant groups.
In 2003, the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Liberian timber export after the Government failed to prove that the revenues were “used for legitimate social, humanitarian, and development purposes.”
The sanctions ultimately offered an opportunity for improved rule of law and were lifted three years later following ambitious reform efforts.
Nevertheless, forest governance in Liberia remains a challenge.
Between 1990 and 2010, the country lost 12.2 percent of its forest cover, posing a threat not only to the communities depending on the forest for a living, but also to climate, wildlife, and biodiversity conservation.
To tackle these challenges, the European Union (EU) and Liberia signed the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) in 2011.
Legal and Policy Framework
Liberia has developed various legal and policy frameworks aimed at addressing deforestation and promoting sustainable forest management.
These include the National Forestry Reform Law, the National Forest Classification and Management Guidelines, and the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Union.
International organizations and development partners have provided support to Liberia’s forest sector.
Initiatives like the REDD+ program and partnerships with organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) aim to combat deforestation and promote sustainable forest management.
The Liberia-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement
In 2003, the EU set up the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance, and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan to reduce illegal logging, improve forest management, and promote legal trade around the world.
VPAs—essentially timber trade agreements between the EU and partner countries—are important parts of this plan.
The EU-Liberia VPA of 2011 followed two years of negotiations among ministries and agencies, Liberian civil society organizations, community groups, and the private sector.
It commits the Government of Liberia to develop and implement systems that ensure its timber exports to the EU come from legal sources.
The VPA also commits Liberia to reform its governance to secure the long-term sustainability of Liberia’s forest sector while contributing to national economic development.
DAI has been supporting implementation of the VPA since 2013, first through funds from the United Kingdom and since 2019 through EU funds.
Community forestry initiatives have been introduced to involve local communities in forest management.
These programs aim to balance economic development with environmental conservation and ensure that local communities benefit from forest resources.
Support Community Forest Management Bodies with developing and implementing management plans, while strengthening their capacity and organization to do so themselves, without external support.
This includes strengthening community structures for the long term, as well as building capacity on legal literacy, conflict resolution, and negotiations, to enable them to effectively engage with traditional authorities, the FDA, and commercial parties.
The Way Forward
Sustainable forest management must be at the forefront of Liberia’s efforts to combat deforestation.
This involves responsible logging practices, reforestation, and long-term planning to ensure that forest resources are not depleted.
Building Capacity for Effective Implementation
“The current phase has a major focus on building the capacity of key government counterparts such as the Liberian Forestry Development Authority, Ministry of Labour, and Environment Protection Agency to effectively implement the VPA,” said Michael Fischer, Team Leader of the project.
Through September 2020, the VPA project facilitated 22 training sessions to improve the capability of stakeholders such as contract administrators and regional foresters.
The sessions have included mock inspections of forest harvesting practices and training in log scaling and verification, volume calculation, reporting, and chain of custody.
Today, Liberian timber can be traced from the forest to the ship at harbor by assigning a unique barcode to every tree, log, and cross-cut, all of which is registered in a database called Libertrace before being exported.
“The idea is that we should be able to trace the wood used for every single piece of—for example—IKEA furniture, to a specific tree stump in Liberia,” said Leckie.
Ensuring Regulations are Put in Place
Our team also supports the implementation of the “legality matrix,” a collection of 11 principles, 49 indicators, and 132 verifiers.
These “checkboxes” help monitor and guarantee that the timber logging is in line with international best practices and that exports comply with legal requirements of the Government of Liberia.
“The previous phase of the project made significant progress with developing compliance procedures for verification of these factors,” said Fischer. “Our job is now to ensure they are active.”
The verifiers encompass various regulations covering everything from logging techniques and fees to environmental impact and minimum wages for staff.
Other requirements relate to the diameter cut limit, such as the minimum cutting diameter set for individual tree species before they can be harvested. To date, 46 out of the 132 verifiers are active. By next year, the hope is to have all of them put in place.
Efforts to combat deforestation in Liberia must address issues of corruption, weak governance, and the enforcement of existing regulations. Transparent and accountable management of forest resources is essential.
Liberia should continue to engage with international organizations and partners to receive technical assistance, financial support, and expertise in developing and implementing effective forest conservation and management programs.
Involving local communities in decision-making and benefiting from forest resources is essential for the success of conservation efforts.
Empowering communities to take an active role in forest management can lead to more sustainable practices.
Deforestation and logging in Liberia are pressing challenges that demand immediate attention.
The historical context, causes, environmental impacts, and economic repercussions of deforestation underscore the complexity of the issue. Liberia’s efforts to combat deforestation have shown promise, but there is much work to be done.
To secure a better future for Liberia, it is essential to strike a balance between economic development and environmental conservation.
Sustainable forest management, strengthened governance, international collaboration, and community involvement are key components of a successful strategy to address the issue of deforestation and logging.
Liberia’s rich natural resources can be a source of prosperity and sustainability if managed wisely, benefiting both the present and future generations