The Meanings and Values of the Forest in Liberia: Toward an Improved Understanding of Socio-Ecological Relations in a Biodiversity Hotspot

Project Lead: Shadrach Kerwillain

With more than six million hectares of forests, Liberia is recognised as the most forested country in the biodiversity hotspot that is the Upper Guinean Forest Ecosystem of West Africa. These forests’ socio-cultural, economic, and ecological importance are well established. They provide livelihoods for rural peoples and are a source of revenue from commercial activities. However, pressure from anthropogenic activities threatens the continuous existence of these valuable ecosystems, necessitating interventions aimed at their protection. Yet, advancing sustainable forest management, primarily through conservation, is seen as a challenge due to the reliance of rural communities and the government on utilising and extracting forest resources, often at odds with conservation interventions like the establishment of protected areas.

By focusing on the actors, institutions, and processes associated with and influencing forest governance and management in Liberia from the 1950s to the present, this project aims to illuminate the factors that have conditioned how this space is perceived, valued, and utilised. What factors influenced the establishment of national forests and the concurrent explosion of commercial logging? How did this transform into a push for establishing a network of protected areas along the lines of a US-centric national park model? How did the breakdown of forest governance during the civil crisis and subsequent reform of law and policies advance the promotion of participatory forest management? How are emerging ideas about climate change, carbon credits, ecotourism, and One Health, among others, impacting the push toward sustainable forest management? What was/is the impact of these conceptualisations of the forest on rural forest-dependent communities? Growing consciousness about the urgency of the entangled climate change and biodiversity crises and how they are entwined with issues aimed at addressing poverty and other socio-economic inequalities means that understanding forests as a dynamic socio-ecological space is imperative to ensure that the push toward environmental sustainability is advanced justly.