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Knowledge of law empowers communities negotiating with timber companies

Forest communities in Liberia should be better able to protect and share in the benefits of local resources, as a new guide to help them negotiate with timber companies has been launched this week.

Under the law, timber companies must pay land rent to forest communities (Community Forest Development Committees (CFDC) by entering into social agreements. These agreements are intended to ensure affected communities are involved in and benefit from the management of forest resources, but communities have often been left feeling short changed.

To support communities involved in negotiating social agreements with timber companies ClientEarth collaborated with Heritage Partners and Associates, the National Union of Community Forest Development Committees, and the Association of Community Rights Defenders to develop the social agreement negotiation guide.

ClientEarth forests law and policy advisor Jozef Weyns said: “This guide will be a definitive tool for communities who are entitled to a share of the benefits from timber operations in Liberia. In the past, vague and incomplete social agreements have frustrated communities who have felt that they have been left with too little by logging.

“The guide will empower communities in their negotiations and improve the agreements, which will reduce the chances of conflicts and illegal harvesting of timber. It will also help people improve their legal skills and confidence and connect forests, people and the law.

People holding guide in Liberia and smiling

Launching the social agreement guide in Monrovia, 3 May 2017

Social agreements must contain strong and enforceable measures if they are to truly benefit forest communities. The community members who negotiate the agreements need the information, knowledge and skills to enter these discussions to be able to represent their communities.

Counsellor Negbalee Warner from HPA said:  “Communities are playing an increasingly important role in the management of forests. When they are affected by timber concessions, they are entitled to share in the benefits and manage them sustainably. To do this, they need to be able to speak and act with the law in mind.”

The guide includes practical tips for this type of contract negotiation and the main legal texts communities will need when entering into a social agreement with a timber company.

It also contains an official template for social agreements and suggested standard terms and conditions which can act as a starting point for discussion.

Augustus F Kwalah, President of the National Union of CFDC, shares his experience: “Recently we renegotiated our social agreement in Lofa. Using an early draft of the guide, remembering our experience under the previous social agreement and with support from the lawyers and ACORD, we were able to negotiate a far better social agreement than previously. Lessons from that ‘field test’ and our previous experience have been included in the final guide. We hope we can use it to enable other communities affected by logging to replicate our success.”

The guide will give people the information and legal clarity they need to start negotiations in the best position possible.

ClientEarth has been working with partners in Liberia on forest law reform since 2015.

Read the full guide here.

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Ken Harper

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