The hour-long ‘Forest Hour’ radio programme aired weekly since 2019, has shone a light onto hidden issues in the forest sector. The has exposed forest illegalities including non-compliance with forest laws, failure to uphold company-community agreements, policy failures, and weak administration by both local and national forest leaders. And it has had notable successes. It is produced by Liberia Forest Media Watch (LFMW), a group of investigative journalists, also formed as part of this initiative.
In 2017, a Global Witness report showed how Liberia’s large-scale logging in community forests involve bribery, collusion, and environmental abuses, with devastating effects on forest-dependent communities. Over the last decade there has been a shift from concessions to community forestry, but as reported by Global Witness, “this community forestry permitting system is being hijacked by rapacious logging companies and a complicit Forestry Development Authority”. The concern that illegal acts continue to be perpetrated by top government officials.
The EU NSA project was the latest of many initiatives to support more inclusive multi-stakeholder decision-making. Project partners recognized that forest communities need information and a voice, as for example, they may have signed a benefit-sharing agreement with a logging company, but often had not been given details or did not fully understand them. So a programme of raising awareness about the ‘rules’ –legislative and similar frameworks and guidance – was designed. Linking forest community members to national media, including radio and print journalism, was a second component. Training for media practitioners in June 2019 was a turning point, as participants agreed at the end of the workshop to form a WhatsApp group to stay in touch. From this, the idea of a formal group, Liberia Forest Media Watch, came about.
Cursory monitoring of Facebook followers suggests the Forest Hour has the potential to reach almost half a million listeners, and reaches all corners of the country and beyond through the internet. Locally, it is regularly relayed to community radio stations in rural areas. Bonathan G. Walaka, a facilitator of the National Union of Community Forest Management Bodies testifies that many people have learnt a lot from listening to Forest Hour. “It is an eye-opener. Now we are able to monitor forest operations, point out wrongs and advocate for change. This advocacy has even helped to reverse decisions and put to checks on government officials’ reported meddling in leadership of forest communities”.
In early 2020, LFMW took over from VOSIEDA as coordinator of the radio show and increased synergies between them. LFMW also joined a group of CSOs involved in forest monitoring, engagement and advocacy, furthering its ability to raise the profile of critical issues affecting people and forests. Too often in the past, reporting on forest governance was by international organizations or when the UN renewed sanctions on Liberian timber. By creating awareness, explaining rights, and providing education on major issues, this work leads to communities knowing that the forest is theirs and they have a stake in its management. Forest Hour discussions have also promoted peaceful settlement of disagreements, and though not every problem has been solved, these initiatives have highlighted the challenges.
Those running the show have seen the potential contribution to people’s lives and livelihoods, and this provides the impetus to maintain it. LFMW journalists have similarly seen that their stories are appreciated and acted on, and that community rights to information, decision-making power, and benefits from forests, need to be actively sustained.
Adapted from: "From darkroom to limelight: advocacy and awareness change Liberia’s forest governance" by Abraham Billy, Paul Kanneh, D. Kaihenneh Sengbeh and David Young
Project financed by European Union - The opinions and views expressed are the sole responsibility of the authors and can in no way be taken to reflect the opinions and views of the European Union.