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20 December 2023: According to research from Forest Trends’ Forest Policy, Trade, and Finance Initiative, a new form of illegal logging poses a significant threat to Liberia’s forests, climate change mitigation, and local communities.
Liberia contains almost half of West Africa’s Upper Guinea Forest, a biodiversity hotspot for endangered species and globally important to climate change mitigation; the region has experienced widespread illegal logging in recent years. Forest Trends’ analysis, based on field investigations and local data, shows that a new form of illegal logging is dramatically increasing this pressure on Liberia’s forests.
Locally called kpokolo – large blocks of timber produced using chainsaws – this form of logging undermines the sustainable management of Liberia’s forests and the economic benefits they provide to local communities. There is no legal definition of kpokolo in Liberia, but the export of chain-sawn timber is illegal. Increasing deforestation also undermines Liberia’s attempts to mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon in large trees. Without government controls, illegality in the kpokolo supply chain puts Liberia’s forests and communities, and global climate mitigation, at risk.
Forest Trends’ report focuses on the challenges faced by Liberia’s Forestry Development Authority (FDA) in preventing kpokolo production and recommends next steps to address enforcement issues.
- Kpokolo harms small-scale lumber producers and circumvents Liberia’s existing laws and regulations. Chainsaw milling (the use of chainsaws to cut planks) has been legally formalized during Liberia’s postwar forest reforms to provide employment to small-scale operators and increase local timber supply for reconstruction. However, compared to the domestic market, kpokolo timber for export generates higher profits, which attracts larger, more powerful (and influential) business actors. Without government control in the kpokolo supply chain, larger companies squeeze out local artisanal operators who have traditionally supplied the domestic market and avoid the rules that control the formal chainsaw milling sector.
- The threat of illegality is significant. The report indicates that most kpokolo is either i) not coming from a permit area, or ii) is untraceable because no origin is documented. Most agreements with local communities in the kpokolo and chainsaw milling sectors are verbal, and there is little incentive for stakeholders to report illegalities.
- The Government of Liberia has not taken clear steps to regulate kpokolo In February 2023, the FDA said it banned transport of kpokolo, but no official statement or document detailing this ban has been found, making it easy for operators to deny knowledge of the ban.
This report demonstrates the significant threat posed by kpokolo, as well as the failure of Liberia’s forest authorities to enforce legal compliance. Overall, Forest Trends recommends that President-elect Boakai push the FDA to publish a detailed announcement banning kpokolo that includes an official definition of kpokolo, clarification on the specific Liberian laws at play, and the penalties for defying the ban.
Even more importantly, “the ban must be followed by a clear demonstration of enforcement,” says Kerstin Canby, Senior Director of Forest Trends’ Forest Policy, Trade, and Finance Initiative, which led the report. “All citizens of Liberia need to know about it, including loggers of any size operation, communities, the police, and forestry officials. There can be no plausible deniability. If the ban is not carefully detailed and widely disseminated, it is unlikely to be effective in the face of the powerful business forces involved.”
This report also shines light on the need for improved law enforcement in the forest sector, especially if carbon markets are to be effective as a climate mitigation strategy. “When it comes to kpokolo, the FDA has failed to enforce its own laws, which does not inspire investor confidence,” says Canby. “Improving legal control should be a top priority for President-elect Bokai, or Liberian citizens and the global climate will suffer.”
Stakes are high for forest countries coming out of COP28 Dubai, where decision-makers were not able to come to an agreement on guidance for Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. In the absence of confirmed international cooperation on climate finance mechanisms such as Article 6, the world is watching how forest countries are not only protecting forests, but how that work is funded and how it aligns with global climate mitigation efforts. National carbon markets, or any other mechanisms, that lack transparency and safeguards to ensure benefits for forest communities risk a free-for-all for bad actors. Forest Trends stresses that strong forestry governance is critical to reduce illegal logging, improve community benefit-sharing mechanisms, and increase sustainable management of Liberia’s forests.
Forest Trends works to conserve forests and other ecosystems through the creation and wide adoption of a broad range of environmental finance, markets, and other payment and incentive mechanisms.
Forest Trends’ Forest Policy, Trade, and Finance Initiative aims to promote policies which harness the power of market incentives for the legal, sustainable, and equitable trade in timber and other commodities harvested from forest landscapes.