Balagwalazu Town, Bluyeama Clan, Zorzor District, Lofa County. Saturday, 14 August 2021. The DayLight/Varney Kamara
By Varney Kamara
BALAGWALAZU, Lofa County – A forest community in Zorzor, Lofa County and a logging company have agreed to amend their current agreement to adopt a new template for their logging agreement, the first time a commercial use contract will be used with the participation of all stakeholders in the forestry sector.
The Bluyeama Community Forest and Sing Africa officially accepted to adopt contract commonly referred to as CUC in the sector. Unlike the current third-party agreement between the parties, it spells out specific timelines on the implementation of community project, payments of land rental and harvesting fees.
Bluyeama and Sing Africa signed their agreement in 2015 but have had a frosty relationship. The company has shipped logs from the forestland covering 49,444 hectares since November 2018 but has failed to pay the community its share of its forest resources. Both community and the company blame the stalemate on the vagueness their current agreement. The new contract is expected to clear those ambiguities, detail clauses and sets the stage for proper implementation of terms and conditions.
“This is different from the past, because it is the first time the people of Bluyeama are having the opportunity to make demands and make changes in the community forest contract with Sing Africa,” said Alexander Songu, chairman of the Bluyeama forest governance structure in an interview with The DayLight at the end of the event for the revision of the document. “We are confident of this contract because I see the parties speaking here with honesty and commitment to the process.”
“It’s true that we have defaulted in the past but we are very hopeful of delivering to the community,” Sing Africa’s Chief Executive Officer G.R. Kuwaor said.
Under the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands allows companies to sign logging agreement with forest communities, but the document varies from one community to another.
The new template is intended to be a standard for communities-loggers deals. It is already being used in some communities but the Bluyeama will be the first time civil society actors will participate in its signing.
This is reflected in the proposed Bluyeama-Sing-Africa contract, which has 30 pages as compared to the parties’ current five-page agreement. And the new template has the support of all parties in the forestry sector, including the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), civil society and legal experts.
Under the proposed arrangement, Sing Africa agreed to construct the road from Balagwalazu to Womai, a major town in the Bluyeama Clan, from this month to November. The company has also agreed to build a clinic in Womai between October 2022 and June 2023. In addition to these commitments, it accepted to refurbish the Balagwalazu Health Center, a major medical facility in that area.
But it did not agree to construct a bridge over the Via River. Locals had hoped that the bridge would link the clan to other parts of Lofa County and open up a major commercial route. In the meantime, an assessment is now being carried out for an alternative bridge over a smaller river.
More than 150 people attended the revision of the Bluyeama CUC, including William Tamba Kamba, the Superintendent of Lofa County.
James Tellewoyan, Manager of Organization Development and Capacity Building of the Multi-Stakeholder Forest Governance and Accountability Project (MFGAP), praised the parties for the tentative agreement.
“Having community people participating in matters that have to do with their own benefits was very good for forest sector governance in Liberia,” Telewoyan told The DayLight in an interview, following the revision. “They were allowed to freely express what they had in mind about the CUC agreement, and I was impressed about this.”
In the next two weeks, parties to the contract are to meet in Balagwalazu to finalize discussions on the new terms of agreement. The CUC signing date is now set for the first week in September.