By Edward Blamo
Edward Blamo is a multimedia journalist with strong interest in the environment and rights issues. In 2019, he won the Press Union of Liberia Environmental Journalist of the Year award for a ground-breaking investigative article on an impasse between residents of Camp Alpha Town, Gbarpolu County and Rangers of the Forestry Development Authority over a Park demarcation exercise.
HOW ACCESS TO INFORMATION HELPS FIGHT FOREST CRIMES IN LIBERIA?
As Liberia battles breaches in forest regulations, and Civil Society Organizations in the forestry sector roll up sleeves to up the ante to improve monitoring forest concessions and their activities, a new technology called Forest Link has been rolled out.
The technology which will track illegal forest activities in real time is being developed as an upshot of a meeting in Ghana in 2019. The technology, being developed and operated by Rainforest RF UK is expected to aid civil society and community forest monitors report illegal forest activities in real time.
“We are targeting 12 forest communities for this exercise. And we will work with the Non State actors which include the NGO Coalition of Liberia, Civil Society Independent Forest Monitor, the National Union of the Community Forest Committee, National Union of the Community Forest Management body, and we will build their capacity in advocacy, research, “said Abraham Billy, Project Manager VOESIEDA, an international NGO managing the project funded by the European Union.
From the wanton abuse of forest revenue by rebel fractions to finance Civil War, to logging concessions disregard for the human rights of forest community dwellers, the Liberian forestry sector had borne the brunt of illegality.
Despite being home to more than 40% of the intact tropical rainforest in the upper Guinea eco region of West Africa, the Liberian Forest has been marred with lack of adequate governance and control mechanisms. According to the World Bank revised Liberia forest sector review report 2019, no logging company had fully discharged their responsibilities relating to forest operations under the Liberian law.
The sustainable and transparent use of forest resources is not a challenge for Liberia alone as the technology is already functional in countries like The Ivory Coast , Ghana, Cameron, Congo and others. Billy said “because, we are a regional based project, we have interactions with Colleagues in neighboring countries including the Ivory Coast. The new technology has been in operations in Ghana, Cameron, Congo and other countries.”
The new technology Billy intoned has two dimensions. One is an inbuilt system called the collector which is used to collect information and a web based online platform which allows information and data input. “Forest stakeholders and partners on the web based platform are able to access information. And an initial 20 mobile phones is being distributed to different community forest monitors to generate information for the platform,” he narrated.
Problems to be solved
Most of the roads leading to forest concessions are inaccessible – and most times forest monitors may stay weeks in travel to report forest violations. And Billy thinks this is one major problem the new App is going to solve. “This App will help forest monitors greatly by reducing the time and distance required to report forest crimes. Forest monitors like those traveling from as far as Maryland County, southeast, Liberia with Information will be relieved by this new technology. It will ensure that information is evidence based through the help of GPS coordinates to show exact location where the incidence took place and there are photos to back it up and in a timely manner”.
It is also expected to address the issue of benefit sharing that includes the payment of land rental, cubic meter and other social obligations to forest communities and Labor and environmental obligations including water pollution and others and to ensure that companies operate within their limits. “It will address as well the issue of transparency and accountability on the collection of fees and other benefits on behalf of the communities,” he said.
On the overall, this system will ensure greater transparency and accountability in the forestry sector and also work to have Illegality reduced, Roland P. Harris, Program Manager for the Civil Society Independent Forest Monitor lamented “We monitor compliance in the forestry sector and do reports. We will be able to do on the spot reporting of illegality within the forestry sector. Data collected through the application is transmitted to a web page which is accessed by all stakeholders. We use the app to report illegality to a wider audience and in real time through an alert system.”