Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Avoiding a 'wild west' logging sector in Liberia

In the 90s, the forests of Liberia became inexorably linked to arms, violence and bloodshed as civil war raged throughout this small west African state.

For nearly a decade President Charles Taylor used Liberia's 4m hectares of primary forest as a wartime piggy-bank. His trade of lucrative tropical wood for arms and cash helped fund a brutal civil conflict that left the country decimated and 250,000 dead.

Since the end of the conflict in 2003, a new government under the Nobel prize-winning President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has tried to break with the past and clean up Liberia's forests.

Instead of conflict timber, Liberia was to become the epitome of sustainable forestry. The entire forestry sector was overhauled with help from the international community, particularly the World Bank, the EU and the US. Millions of dollars were pumped into creating a sustainable and conflict-free timber industry.

Initial signs were good. Liberia was praised internationally for its efforts to create a strong framework that protected its virgin rainforest and the communities who should be benefiting from it.
Yet in the process something has gone badly wrong.
In recent months, it has emerged that Liberia's forests are being stripped by logging operators who now own more than a third of the country's entire landmass. Campaigning groups say that these companies are working through unregulated private contracts, operating outside Liberia's sustainable forestry laws amid reports of widespread fraud and misconduct.

The situation in Liberia is now threatening wider EU drives to create a more sustainable global forestry industry, with the fear that potentially illegal Liberian timber could be exported directly into EU markets.
The undermining of Liberia's efforts to create a sustainable forestry strategy starkly reveals the faultlines that still exist in the drive to regulate the global logging industry.

Despite its efforts to overhaul Liberia's dark past as a heartland for "conflict timber" and create a sustainable forestry sector that has learnt lessons from its bloody past, Liberia has created a "broken system that never got off the ground", according to Jonathan Gant, a policy adviser at campaigning group Global Witness.

So where did it all go wrong?

To read the rest of this article, please click on this link to the Guardian Sustainable Business website

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