Beyond Oil Exploration Could Liberia Infuse Coastal  Zone Management (CZM) Policy For Inclusive Growth?



By Wollor E. Topor, PhD
University of the Philippines, Visayas

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
March 26, 2014


Can much needed decent jobs really be created under the current economic situation in Liberia?  The present policy challenge facing President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s government is how to accelerate inclusive growth; the types that creates more and better jobs and reduce poverty. Both formal and informal work, wage workers and self-employment. In the 60s Liberia attempted the commodity approach to development, which was  focused on the extractive exploration of finite resources mainly iron ore; at the end, Liberia was described as “Growth without Development,” or plundered state’s natural resources to create double-digit growth rate for a small group of privileged and well connected Liberians to benefit. The inequitable distribution of the national wealth among other things could have fueled the civil war. This has proven the point that Liberia failed the commodity approach to development. This resulted into an imaginable consequence for such a small country, where almost everyone knows each other but had to get at each other’s throat, this  meant economic statistics or double-digit growth rate alone do not constitute development.

In the late 1990, the rehabilitation approach to development was introduced, as the country was at war with itself; Liberia old secret of not being self-sufficient in food production was exposed as the international community does not only had to feel entire country but continue to subsidy the national budget greatly through aid, grants, etc. The period that has magnified the already dependency syndrome and has resulted to a patronage movement of “Papie” or “Oldma” as a straightforward means of begging for handouts for survival - charity development approach.  

Ma’am Ellen’s Government knows that its reforms are not meeting the expectations of the people, such as creating the environment to accelerate inclusive growth that is center more on generating more decent jobs to reduce poverty. Reforms create winners and losers, and close to two decades after the civil war, the winners have not been able to convince the losers that implementing these reforms would put Liberia on a much higher growth path then before. Instead, Liberia is experiencing low investment in infrastructure, poor governance, rampant corruption, poor justice system, inadequate building of the human capacity, especially among the poor, inadequate public healthcare, no housing scheme, and the worst is the lack of employment among the youth and the less no adaptation measures in climate change (climate change is real) – all the above in contrast are fundamental requirements for the country’s competitiveness and development.   

The current reforms are weighted on the commodity approach again, which Liberia failed to achieve true development. Besides that, the country is still hanging on the old over-centralized bureaucracies (non-inclusiveness), which are partially responsible for most of the problems Liberia faced today. Politicians over the years have been manipulating and coercing people for their own political gains that is not leading us anywhere but in vicious cycle of abject poverty for the majority while a few privileged and well connected exhibit eye-catching and luxurious wealth.

Hence, change does not just come simple, and motivating inner change of the ordinary people to be willing to participate and be involved in matters that affect their very lives is the first step to social change. One pilot area for community involvement is the coastal zone.  Community-based coastal resources management (CBCRM) for coastal dwellers could bring some livelihood opportunities to these communities. Now the forest (trees are to be sold through the Forestry Development Authority after which the bare land is given to multinational companies for mono-cropping plantation - rubber or oil palm); the ocean may have uncertainties but its waves could have opportunities for poor Liberians.  

CBCRM is an alternative approach to resources management. It differs from the conventional management style, wherein government manages terrestrial resources like forest ,oil exploration and mining, which can be described as “command-and-control” due to its heavy reliance on formal regulation and place more emphasis on revenue collection. CBCRM strategy goes beyond regulation; it attempts to address the basic factors which cause poverty among the coastal inhabitants.  In CBCRM, the natural coastal resources are identified, their status established, usage and users are recognized and documented, and data helps in the planning process to develop a CBCRM plan. This is usually done through a practice of co-management (community, government, NGOs, or academe) wherein managers share responsibilities. In this initiative, the primary stakeholder is the community while other stakeholders could be considered as catalysts in the process.

Importantly, CBCRM is about community members being involved or participating and being empowered.  It is about enhancing transparency and holding local people accountable on coastal resources (mangroves, seagrass, coral reef and fishes) as they conserve and use them sustainably. CBCRM involves exploring all the available potential in providing alternative livelihood trainings – the knowledge, motivating them for change in their attitude, providing them with skills which they are to practicalize by adding value to their local coastal resources. Even trainings will be useless without the necessary inputs to establish income generating activities that will put food on the tables of community members who eke on the physical environment as their “bank.” 

Furthermore, the CBCRM intends to ensure that coastal resources are continuously available for commercial utilization as renewable resources. This requires sustainable usage, the appropriate technologies and greater networking among requisite institutions (funding agencies, academic institutions, community, NGOs, etc.). While it is true that CBCRM may not be the pinnacle in solving all Liberia’s problems.  CBCRM initiative could be one of the magic bullets to bring economic ‘release’ to Liberia’s coastal poor rather than relief. 

Once there are sustainable livelihoods established, hardly will the locales venture into destructive activities like illegal fishing and the usage of inappropriate methods like blasting of dynamite, compressor fishing and dropping of cyanide in the water which doesn’t discriminate small fishes from sizable ones but killed them all. Therefore, for CBCRM to succeed, it requires essential ingredients like the system of incentive and sanctions, rights and rules that control community behavior on how they should use coastal natural resources on which they depend on for sustenance and income.

Liberia coastal zone can be described by an unbroken sand strip. It stretches from Cape Mount to Cape Palmas resting on the flat coastal plain along the Atlantic Ocean. The county is blessed with about 20 000 km2 of marine fishing grounds, as well as over 1 800 km of rivers, and countless perennial swamps and inland water bodies (CAAS-Lib, 2007).

Fishes from the Atlantic Ocean and Liberia’s bodies of water have been the sources for fish protein from time immemorial. Moreover, the fishing industry contributes significantly to Liberia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), although most of this money is from foreign fishing vessels. Meaning, the local fishers (artisanal fisherfolks) need to be worked with to improve the rudimentary methods of fishing.

Liberia needs CBCRM because little is known about coastal resources. Hardly can one come across documentation on the profile, distribution/inventory of mangroves, seaweeds, coral and fish species status.  Moreover, there has been the dwindling in mangrove forest resources (Creel, 2003). Once the mangroves are being affected it  implies that the seagrass, coral could be in dreadful conditions with consequent effects on the decline in fish catch, the fact that these ecosystems are interconnected.

Besides the marine supplying Liberia’s fish protein needs, aquaculture is a process of fish rearing (fishponds) in order to enhance production. Aquaculture was experimented at the Central Agriculture Research Institute (CARI) in Suakoko by breeding common carps such as Nile tilapia and catfish varieties in the 1970s. Through the aid of US Peace Corps Volunteers, this practice was adapted in rural Liberia. In early 2000, European Union (EU) supported aquaculture in Liberia. This could be one alternative means to maintain or increase fish supplies in the face of decreasing fish catch. Ghana experience could be studied, but again, this requires community-based organizing.

Liberia has few natural resources laws, further less in administrating the coastal resources. These are separate codes in the area of prevention of sea erosion, maritime pollution, fishery code, mining exploration, conservation, etc. More often than not, these laws were under separate regulatory authorities without considering their relationship to other laws or as a whole.  Like other laws which had international implication, the proposed coastal resources management law has it is legal basis in global Model Law Coastal Zone Management for sustainable management and poverty reduction. In Rio + 20 report “The Future We Want” count 2 reads “Eradicating poverty is the greatest global challenge facing the world today and anindispensable requirement for sustainable development. In this regard we are committed to free humanity from poverty and hunger as a matter of urgency.”

Oceanic nations globally are implementing or examining foundations for their realization. There are 50 nations operating approximately 150 CBCRM programs. Like any other poverty reduction strategy, CZM is guided by established general principles and characteristics for its implementation spelled out in Chapter 17 of the Rio Convention.

In crafting a CZM law, it requires among other things, planning and setting objectives and this in turn needs a good understanding of the community, their value and culture, the resources, attributes, institutions and the environment in which the people operate - baseline assessment. There is a need to obtain and manage information through educational outreach to the various stakeholders or interest groups. This along with multi-sectorial planning promotes harmonization of relations between various users of natural resources in coastal zones and reduces conflicts.

… There are two important legislations which have to be considered along with the proposed coastal resources law. It will be appropriate for the decentralization of governance or a local government unit (LGU) code. Decentralization of government is in contrast to the current highly central command of government wherein every decision must come from Monrovia. A local government code is where local autonomy is guaranteed.  To an extent, power is transferred from national to local government units (district, city, county, and region).

Although, there are arguments and counterarguments on decentralization, with regard to coastal resources management, it has been proven in majority of countries who successfully implementing CBCRM, the key role in coastal resources management jurisdictions is left purely with local government authorities. Many studies have shown beyond doubt that there are risks associated with imposing standard models for natural resources management without taking the locales into consideration; this has the potential to undercut any environmental recovery initiative.

The other proposed Act is the Comprehensive Land Use Planning (CLUP) Act. The importance of this Act would be the tool for managing land and natural resources use at the local level; it guides and regulates development of a city/ municipality. For instance, this tool along with the local government unit Act, in conformity with existing laws, should allow each LGU to prepare its respective Comprehensive Land Use Plan and enact zoning ordinances, which are the primary and dominant bases for land use and resources in the coastal zone. For example prohibition of construction closer to the sea; one can buy land 30 meters away from the coastline.

Multi-sector planning with different experts and interest groups is required to reflect all interests of users. Anything less than that, it is evident that the legislation will answer only one kind of interest. All actions should be coordinated, with sufficient developed mechanisms representing the conflicting interests of numerous coastal natural resources users.        

From the conceptualization of the idea, information, education and communication (IEC) is a very essential element in coastal management throughout the process. For example, relevant awareness /trainings are necessary for securing wide public participation in planning and decision-making leading to the passing of the law. Law is social product meant for the “common good’’ of the society. Therefore, society members must be made to fully understand that should enable them to support this desired mode of conduct. It is through IEC that society members are made aware of the consequences of their actions and matching administrative, legal and judicial punishment when one violates a law. CZM requires a lot of capacity building, community organizing, networking, participation, etc. if it is to succeed.  

CRM legislation varies from country to country for coastal management. Countries formulate legislation based on the specific needs and use of coastal areas. Some legislative measures are adopted as a method of controlling urbanization in coastal territories.

CRM could reduce the overexploitation of coastal resources (e.g. fish), destruction of mangroves that contribute to the biological productivity of coastal systems and function as nurseries and as refuges from predators for many species. Their depletion or loss would affect nutrient flux, energy flow, essential habitat for a multitude of species, and biodiversity.

CZM law should not be applied in isolation from political realities, economic conditions or without taking into account historical features of the legal system on which they are based. Thus, legislation serves as the framework while ordinances used by LGU fulfill the direct needs of a separate locality to precisely define problems as they arise and to define methods for their solution. The Coastal Management Act of the United States is an example of scientific basis and structured legislation.

The purpose of coastal law is for conservation and protection of the coastal environment. This requires the necessary coordination among existing administrative bodies, or to establish a central coordinating body in order to provide coherent implementation of decisions by all interested institutions. Enforcing the established law for CZM is the number one ingredients of this initiative, and this is where the local people’s involvement is important. These local people interact with their coastal environment on the daily basis from generation to generation and know it well and better than any “outsider.”

Harry Conway
This paper presents a splendid academic idea. What is lacking is the step-by-step practical actions needed by the coastal communities and government to achieve these ideas. This is what is often missing commentaries on Liberia's underdevelopment.
Harry Conway at 09:49AM, 2014/04/03.

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