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Liberia: Understanding people’s dependence on forests

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-A World Bank report

Women working in the forest in Liberia. Here, forestry is the fourth largest contributor to the economy after services, agriculture, and fisheries, mining, and panning.

In Liberia, half of the population lives within 2.5 kilometers of a forest. Each day, these households spend over three hours collecting forest products for subsistence and for sale, earning 35% of their income. In case of crisis such as droughts, fires, floods or pandemics, forests provide a safety net, offering resources to recover from the shocks.

Informal and largely unmeasured, forest activities provide an important source of jobs, income and food security. Despite the crucial role forests play in sustaining livelihoods, 12.2% of Liberia’s forest cover was lost from 1990 to 2010.

Understanding household-forest interactions is crucial if we aim to optimize communities’ benefits from forests while preserving the resources. Without data, policymakers have been unable to grasp the economic and social connections between households and forests and their implications for livelihoods and sustainability.

The recent Liberia National Household Forest Survey (NHFS) prepared by the World Bank closes this knowledge gap and offers new light on the contribution of forests to household’s incomes, subsistence, and resilience. The findings will inform the design of interventions intended to reduce the poverty of forest-dependent communities.

The 2018-2019 National Forest Inventory estimates that Liberia’s forests make up more than two-thirds of the country’s land area and cover 6.69 million hectares, equivalent to twice the size of Belgium . Forests are home to a rich biodiversity: 881 known fauna species, of which 0.8% are endemic and 4.2% threatened; and at least 2,200 flora species of vascular plants, of which 4.7% are endemic.

Forestry is the fourth largest contributor to the economy after services, agriculture, and fisheries, mining, and panning. The formal forest sector contributes 10% to GDP and employs 39,880 full-time equivalent workers, of whom 35% are women (2020 Liberia Forest Resources Assessment).

The informal sector also brings countless benefits to communities. Chainsaw milling provides up to 24,000 regular jobs and contributes each year, up to $41 million, about 3 to 4% of GDP. The charcoal industry employs up to 28,000 people on a regular basis. Non-Timber Forest Products such as fruits, honey, meat, nuts, and plants are vital to the livelihoods of most of the rural population.

Deforestation during the war when forest revenues were used to finance weapons, a growing population, and increasing human pressures have led to the loss of Liberia’s forests. Moreover, the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to exert more pressure, given people’s easy access to neighboring forests and their shrinking sources of alternative livelihoods. This can create a vicious cycle of over-extraction, forest degradation, and ultimately a decline in the resources needed to meet household needs.

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