Liberia is the most forested country in West Africa . The country contains the majority (44%) of the remaining Upper Guinean Rainforest, a global biodiversity hotspot . In 2015, forests (defined as greater than 30% tree canopy cover) made up 6.5 million hectares, or 68% of Liberia’s land surface. This includes some areas under tree crops such as oil palm, rubber, and cacao. Out of this, about 4.3 million hectares are categorized as dense tropical forest with a canopy cover of more than 80% , . Furthermore, about 975,000 hectares are classified as degraded land (that is canopy cover under 30%) .
Of the total forest area (nearly 6.6 million hectares), almost 28% is designated for commercial timber production (under Forest Management Contracts [FMCs] and Timber Sale Contracts [TSCs]), 18% is under existing and proposed protected areas, 5% is under palm oil concessions, and 1% is under rubber and other plantations. The non-designated category accounts for about 45% of the forest area. This land is used in a variety of ways by communities, smallholder cultivators, and transitory populations .
Liberia’s forests have a high biodiversity value and a high commercial value. The formal forestry sector contributes a relatively high share (10%) of the national economy compared with other sectors and serves as an important source of employment (both formal and informal) . According to the 2020 Forest Resources Assessment produced by FAO, as of 2015, around 39,880 full time equivalent workers (of which about 35% women) were formally employed by the sector. While the informal chainsaw milling sector provides between 19,000 and 24,000 permanent jobs to both urban and rural individuals. The annual revenue generated by chainsaw milling alone is estimated to be US$31–41 million, or about three to four percent of Liberia’s gross domestic product. Charcoal demand in Liberia was estimated at US$46 million in 2018. The charcoal industry is thought to employ up to 28,000 people on a ‘full time equivalent’ basis .
Despite the important contributions they make to the economy and to livelihoods, Liberia’s forests are under threat . From 2001 to 2018, Liberia lost 1.53 million hectares of tree cover, equivalent to a 16% decrease since 2000 . The US Geological Survey (USGS) shows that primary tropical forests declined from 43.5% of the land area in 1975 to 36.82% in 2013, and that the annual average rate of deforestation more than doubled from the 1975-2000 period to the 2000-2013 period . The deforestation (forest loss) rate was estimated at 0.46% per year over 2005–2015 . Overall, net forest depletion (as percentage of gross national income), a measure of unsustainable use of the forest, increased from 0.5% in 2005 to 32% in 2015, according to World Development Indicators (2015) .
Liberia’s forests face a range of pressures mainly from the economic transformation agenda. The post-conflict Government of Liberia (GoL) has always regarded its natural resources as a catalyst for equitable economic growth, and the current GoL Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) shows all indications of continuing this trend .
Deforestation and forest degradation (depletion of existing forests) in Liberia are caused by shifting agriculture, chainsaw milling, charcoal production, poor enforcement of regulations governing forest concessions, expansion of commercial agriculture concessions (for example, palm oil), and widespread mining. Additionally, ineffective management of protected areas poses a risk to biodiversity and critical ecosystem services .
Key policies and governance approach
Significant progress has been made toward institutionalizing forest management and establishing a conducive legal framework. The establishment of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) in 1976, and the enactment of the National Forestry Reform Law in 2006 and the Community Rights Law with respect to forest lands in 2009 have helped better institutionalize forest management in Liberia . The reform process also introduced regulations governing commercial forestry practices, non-timber forest products, artisanal logging for local use, community forestry, protected areas, and wildlife conservation .
The National Forestry Reform Law aims at assuring the sustainable management, conservation, protection and sustainable development of Liberia’s forest land . It provides the framework for identifying, allocating, and managing logging concessions; it also ushered in the era of the “three Cs” approach, giving equal balance to community, commercial, and conservation aspects of forestry. It has provided a solid foundation for the operation of the sector and its sustainable contribution to the economy . The Community Rights Law provides a strong basis for the engagement of communities in sustainable forest management .
The FDA plays a pivotal role in managing Liberia’s forest resources, and its Strategic Plan (2018–2030) prioritizes institutional strengthening for achieving its vision of “sustainable forestry for sustainable development” . The FDA published their first Liberian Code of Practice for Timber Harvesting in September 2007 and amended the Code in 2017. The Code of Forest Harvesting Practices provides a set of guidelines on responsible forest management, to help foresters and logging companies during their harvesting operations , . Additionally, the FDA oversees the implementation of the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement (FLEGT-VPA) with the European Union, signed in 2011, establishing a chain of custody for legally harvested timber destined for Europe .
SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES
The industry has performed below its potential due to a combination of poor infrastructure, complicated processes, poor data quality, limited downstream processing, and challenges from local communities for the full benefits from Forest Management (FMC) and Timber Sales (TSC) production contracts .
Furthermore, a combination of shifting cultivation practices, unregulated chainsaw milling, unregulated charcoal production for urban markets, encroachment by commercial and artisanal miners, and weak governance of forest resources hamper sustainable forest management. The lack of adequate logistics and technical skills also hinder the growth potential .
Liberia’s forestry sector faces several challenges that need to be addressed in order for it to become an engine of growth for the economy. Challenges include weak implementation of the existing legal, policy, and regulatory frameworks; poor governance; and limited capacity and budgetary constraints of the FDA. These are compounded by cross-sectoral challenges from mining and agricultural concessions because of a lack of national and regional land use planning .
Implementation and enforcement of the legislative framework has been weak. Staff that are assigned to carry out enforcement are often poorly equipped or lack the capacity to do so. For instance, at Lake Piso Multiple Use Area, only one FDA official covers the 97,159 ha unit, according to an assessment by USAID (2018) .
Additionally, threats to the country’s forests are also amplified by the lack of technical capacity to respond on the part of the FDA . A survey carried out by the World Bank found that FDA staff have weaker educational qualifications than staff in other Liberian ministries or international comparators, and they lack adequate access to in service training. Improving the skills of FDA staff will help to strengthen FDA’s institutional capacity .
One of the biggest challenges facing the FDA is managing the country's forests to ensure that community, conservation, and commercial interests are all met. Liberians are dependent on forests for their lives and livelihoods. For example, most people rely on charcoal for their cooking fuel. Liberia is also a leader in agroforestry; it has the largest rubber plantation in the world. Furthermore, climate change has focused the world's attention on the remaining tropical rainforests as an important reservoir of carbon. These demands overlap with logging for the use of Liberia's forests. The FDA has tried to resolve this conflict through scientific planning that accounts for the relative value of specific areas to alternative uses. This planning effort has identified areas good for logging, but that is unlikely to have conflicting claims from local communities .
Initiatives and Development Plans
Since 2008, Liberia has been working with national and international partners, including the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), to reform its forestry sector. The country’s efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) aim to deliver community, conservation, and commercial benefits while preventing further loss of forests .
The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) launched Liberia’s first National Forestry Inventory (NFI) Report, a historical milestone for Liberia. The report provides critical recommendations that are vital for sustainable forest management including the protection of Liberia’s forest endowment. The key recommendations advanced in the report focus on the sustainable nature of commercial operations, how conservation has the potential to partner with communities to provide much needed poverty alleviation and also the potential role carbon stored in the forests can play in leveraging Liberia’s international obligation to the Paris Agreement whilst providing a source of revenue through results-based payments .
The FDA has granted community forest status to fifteen Communities which will now allow these communities to commence commercial logging operations on nearly 200,000 hectares of forest land over the next 15 years thereby creating jobs and improving the lives of forest-dependent people. Additionally, affected Communities have the right to all carryout biodiversity conservation practices with the guidance of the FDA. Seven sawmills have been registered with the Forestry Development Authority. In addition, the Forestry Development Authority officially took over the management of the Chain of Custody Operations from SGS (Société Générale de Surveillance), a contracted service provider, saving the Government of Liberia USD 700,000. These interventions will help increase forestry output and contribution to government revenue .
- Liberia would benefit from a targeted capacity development program aimed at improving the scientific and analytical capacity of FDA staff.
- Strengthen FDAs institutional capacity by improving skills through merit-based recruitment and competency-based training; strengthening management practices, in particular, through performance assessments, targeting, and monitoring; more equitable pay; and greater community engagement.
- Improve public access to forestry information.
- As Liberia seeks to continue forest monitoring as part of the REDD+ initiative as well as sustainable forest management, it is critical for the Forestry Development Authority to retain a core group of field inventory officers who can undertake forest inventory activities supporting development as well as ongoing FDA monitoring work.
- Liberia would benefit from a dedicated small-scale inventory focusing on mangrove forests using an enumeration methodology aligned to the national inventory. Outputs from this inventory will provide useful information on carbon stocks as well as biodiversity and coastal resilience.
- Liberia should also in the future seek to undertake a full-scale national soil survey.
- Participate in the international carbon market through REDD+ and other international market mechanisms.
- Sustainable livelihoods need to be developed in the context of community managed natural resources. Agricultural programs will need to be made more climate-resilient. New and innovative approaches for energy for household and light industrial use will be needed. All of this must take into account the implications of a changing climate.
- Build human capacity in the natural resource sector by supporting the Forestry Training Institute, Central Agricultural Research Institute, and other relevant institutes of advanced training and research.
- Support value chain enhancement for nontimber forest products (NTFP).
 ClientEarth (2021). [Online]. Available: https://www.clientearth.org/latest/documents/act-2006-act-adopting-the-national-forestry-reform-law-liberia/#:~:text=The%20National%20Forestry%20Reform%20Law%20of%202006%20aims%20at%20assuring,development%20of%20Liberia%20forest%20land.
 ClientEarth (2021). [Online]. Available: https://www.clientearth.org/latest/documents/code-2017-code-of-forest-harvesting-practices-liberia/.
 Forest Carbon Partnership (2021). [Online]. Available: https://www.forestcarbonpartnership.org/liberia-finalizes-its-redd-readiness-phase.
 FAO (2021). [Online]. Available: https://www.fao.org/liberia/news/detail-events/en/c/1392892/.