Tags: LIberia | timber | loggingtropical

Liberia Mulls Logging its Vital Tropical Timber

Wednesday, 06 Jan 2010 10:10 AM


MONROVIA, Liberia — Liberia is about to restart logging of its valuable tropical hardwood timber, but environmental activists warn that even with strict regulations the new commercial activity may cause terrible ecological damage.

The United Nations placed an embargo on timber from Liberia in 2003 to stop former president Charles Taylor’s use of illegally logged "blood timber" to fund his violent rule. The international sanctions effectively prohibited the commercial logging or exporting of any timber products.

Previously the export of hardwoods was estimated to make up 60 percent of Liberia's GDP.

The U.N. ban has now been lifted and new, innovative regulations for domestic forestry have been implemented. Seven companies are in the final stages of getting permission to start cutting down one of West Africa’s most valuable natural resources: untouched rainforest.

This does not come without controversy.

Proponents argue that logging will produce as many as 40,000 much needed jobs and jump-start a multi-million dollar industry in Liberia’s fledgling economy. Critics question how accurate the projected employment statistics are, how the new regulations will be enforced and if the financial benefits will balance against the loss of pristine forests, an increasingly rare commodity in Africa.

“This is not an easy balance to strike, given the urgent need to create jobs and generate revenues,” said Patrick Alley, director of the U.K.-based environmental watchdog Global Witness. Global Witness has been a vocal opponent of the current move to re-open Liberia’s forestry industry.

The group has raised concerns about the long-term ecological health of the country, the integrity of companies proposing to do the logging, the legitimacy of their contracts, and how accurate the revenue predictions are.

“Industrial logging in the tropics rarely, if ever, delivers the promised outcomes in terms of employment and development, nor the steady stream of income to central government which is its main economic justification,” explained Alley. He points to examples in other developing and post-conflict nations such as Cambodia and the Democratic Republic of Congo where short-term benefits from forestry became dwarfed by long-term environmental damage.

Global Witness has uncovered that at least two of the logging companies are tied to a Malaysian company, Samling, notorious for a record of human rights and environmental violations in the developing world.

John T. Woods, Managing Director of the country’s Forest Development Authority (FDA), sees the logging industry’s future much more optimistically.

“The forestry sector was reformed to ensure the ‘business as usual’ practices no longer continued,” said Woods, referring to four years of work put into drafting the current regulations to avoid repeating the logging industry’s ills of the past.

Woods agrees that the ecological health of the country’s forests is of paramount concern. However, he is also keenly aware of the country’s need to boost its revenue streams, infrastructure and employment: The U.N.'s 2008 Human Development Index revealed Liberia’s GDP to be $300 per capita, with more than 60 percent of the population living on a dollar a day or less. Responsibly managing and utilizing the forest will bring economic development, said Woods.

Woods points to 3.7 million acres of protected forest, tight regulations on forestry company contracts, low annual levels of logging, and the requirement that companies invest in local infrastructure as strong arguments that Liberia will have the most highly controlled forestry regulations in Africa.

“We have efficient mechanisms for control and regulation of the commercial forestry sector,” said Woods. “We are very sure that it will work, especially its cornerstone, the chain-of-custody system.”

The system he refers to is designed to monitor logged trees ‘from stump to port,’ meaning that every exported log can be legally verified as coming through the legitimate processes in Liberia’s regulations.

“The chain of custody contract will be effective,” said Thomas Pichet, project manager for Liberfor, the company contracted to manage this system. “That’s where the focus is at the moment. Ensuring that operations are within the rule of law and in line with the regulations.”

These regulations, Pichet emphasizes, came through high levels of communication with not only government and foreign stakeholders, but also non-governmental organizations and civil society. He views Liberia’s regulatory mechanisms as a major step forward for African forestry.

“It is he most advanced legal framework in the forest sector in Africa, period. It goes far beyond what has been drafted in Ghana or Congo or Cameroon,” said Pichet.

Logging advocates have faith that these regulations can fend off the endemic corruption and mismanagement that continues to haunt Liberia at all levels of government, business and aid work.

Those less confident urge an alternative suggested by a European consortium and endorsed by Global Witness which offers to pay Liberia to not log. Through the REDD program — an often criticized system that creates carbon credits to be sold on the European markets by protecting areas meant to be logged — preliminary talks offered millions of dollars to ensure tracts of land remain unforested.

Woods and those in the forestry sector are taking the offer seriously but they remain skeptical of the real benefits of this relatively new process.

“We are very uncertain what the country can gain from REDD,” Woods stated, urging those involved to convert the "theory" of carbon sequestration into monetary value for Liberia.

For now, Woods sees the maximal gain in following the stringent guidelines set out, and showing that environmentally responsible and economically beneficial forestry can be accomplished in Africa.

“All the ingredients appear to be in place for this [type of] scenario to play out now in Liberia,” he added.

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Africa
LIberia,timber,loggingtropical
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2010-10-06
Wednesday, 06 Jan 2010 10:10 AM
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