(GIN) – Logging companies have bought up a quarter of Liberia’s woodlands and almost half of the country’s best intact forests, using a legal loophole to grab precious private land, according to a new report.
The scale of the deals threatens the country's vast rainforests, as well as the hundreds of thousands of people who depend on them.
"A quarter of Liberia's total landmass has been granted to logging companies in just two years, following an explosion in the use of secretive and often illegal logging permits," said Global Witness, one of the researchers involved in the report.
The UK-based Global Witness conducted the investigation with two Liberian advocacy groups - the Save My Future Foundation and the Sustainable Development Institute.
The new contracts - termed Private Use Permits – were designed to allow private landowners to cut trees on their own property. Instead, multinationals are using them to avoid Liberia’s forest laws and regulations. One of these companies, Atlantic Resources, is linked to the notorious Malaysian giant Samling - already involved in illegal logging around the world, from Cambodia to Guyana to Papua New Guinea.
Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has suspended the head of the Forestry Development Authority and launched an investigation into the sale of land to logging companies.
"Private Use Permits are great news for logging companies. They are very bad news for pretty much everybody else in Liberia," said Robert Nyahn of Save My Future Foundation, speaking to Afua Hirsch of the Guardian newspaper. "Some communities will receive less than 1% of their timber's value, while very little revenue will reach state coffers."