We have undertaken many activities over the last year towards the CiSoPFLEG project. Below is a summary of three of the activities, and more will be added soon.
1. Local communities in the Volta Region express high interest in collaborative forest management
To strengthen community participation in forest governance and management, Friends of the Earth-Ghana and the Accelerated Rural Development Organisation (ARDO) held a number of community forest forums in Ho and Hohoe Municipal Assemblies in the Volta Region as part of our CiSoPFLEG project. We discussed important forest issues with the communities, and shared knowledge and skills to support them in monitoring and reporting illegal and corrupt forest practices that undermine good forest governance. Seven community forums and durbars were held during October 2015 in the communities of GbiAkplafume, AlavanyoAgorxoe and Alavanyo in Hohoe District and Taviafe, TaviafeAvenya, Matse and Lume in the Ho District. Participation was open to all members of the community to ensure the views and opinions of all groups would be properly represented and heard. Interesting findings that emerged during the forums include:
- Local communities are willing to collaborate with the Forestry Commission (FC) in local forest management activities such as establishing green fire belts to protect their remnant forest resources
- Communities have expressed interest in establishing fire-volunteer groups with support from the National Fire Service to prevent the annual bush fires in the Togo plateau Forest Reserve
- Communities also want to establish plantations to help provide wood for local use
- Local communities in both districts are still dissatisfied with the negotiation and fulfillment of Social Responsibility Agreements (SRA), and also the compensation paid when forest resources are exploited
- Bush fires remain an annual, foreseen disaster that destroys the forest reserves and local communities’ crops, yet they are still not prevented
- Local communities are appealing to the Forestry Commission for a portion of the forest reserves to be given to them for farming.
The forestry sector is still characterized by conflict, particularly around issues of tree tenure, land boundaries, benefit sharing, compensation payments, and SRA benefits. There are still shortcomings in the legal structures that govern forest management such that communities’ rights continue to be disrespected. Communities do not gain sufficient benefits to compensate for the loss of access to forest resources, and they are not adequately compensated for the damage to their crops when trees are felled on their farms. These issues need to be addressed as a matter of urgency to ensure the welfare of communities does not decline and they are not plunged deeper into poverty. FoE-Ghana will continue to empower communities to demand for their rights and needs to be respected and fulfilled, and to equip them with the knowledge and skills they need for contributing to good forest governance and management. This will also result in more inclusive FLEGT/VPA implementation in Ghana.
2. FoE-Ghana creates awareness on transparency and accountability gaps in Forest Governance
Within Ghana’s forestry sector, there are clear problems of accountability and transparency that undermine good forest governance. Particular areas of concern include access to information, fair forest benefit sharing (revenue computation, collection and distribution) including SRAs, widespread corruption, and rent-seeking behaviour. With regard to VPA implementation, there are glaring transparency deficits particularly with respect to availability of and ease of access to information. The use of forest revenue and the community development projects it funds have only recently been properly discussed. District Assemblies consider their share of the forest revenue as internally-generated funds, which in forest rich districts may constitute as much as 30–40 per cent of their annual internally-generated revenue. This has often been used to finance general operations of the District Assembly, with only a small share sometimes being used for community development projects. Similarly, traditional authorities often spend forest revenues on recurrent costs, festivals, land litigations, and construction or renovation of palaces. Very little actually benefits the grassroots community members who are often in need of facilities for fresh water, sanitation, health and education.
Lack of awareness of the importance of transparency and accountability in Ghana’s forest governance is a major challenge. Some illegalities in the sector arise due to ignorance of the forest laws and the rationale behind them. Public education and awareness on implementation of FLEGT/VPA and Ghana’s forest laws and policies is therefore critical to address these problems. As part of the CiSoPFLEG project activities, a media training workshop was organized to: 1) strengthen their capacity for raising awareness and sharing information amongst the general public and other stakeholders on Ghana’s FLEGT VPA, and 2) to support advocacy efforts towards combating illegal forest activities and bringing about transparency and accountability to strengthen forest governance. Media personnel from radio and television stations and print media were trained in gathering, disseminating, and reporting information on corrupt and illegal forest practices, as well as the importance of transparency and accountability in the forestry sector. This increased knowledge and awareness will enable all forest stakeholders to monitor forest operations and VPA processes to ensure transparency and accountability and eventually to stamp out corruption.
3. The blame game continues…
The deforestation rate in Ghana has been alarming in recent years, caused by activities such as logging, conversion of forest to agricultural lands, illegal chainsaw logging, and mining operations. Efforts to curb deforestation have been ad-hoc with limited impact, such as the collaborative forest management that included the establishment of community forest committees but never achieved the expected outcomes due to abuse of power in some communities. The enforcement of forest legislation has also not been very effective. Together, these problems have made the fight against deforestation even more challenging.
In an effort to find a lasting solution to the illegal logging menace and so reduce deforestation, Friends of the Earth-Ghana (FoE-Ghana), has held over 50 community forest forums across six regions to discuss and find collective solutions to forest management problems in Ghana. Some of the communities are Awuransua, Kadewaso, Kumanini, Mofram (Eastern Region), Alavanyo, Abehenase (Volta Region), Numereso, Abuakwa (Ashanti Region), and Chine (Western Region). A major concern that emerged in all the forest districts and communities visited since 2014 has been that the communities have blamed the Forest Services Division (FSD) for the deforestation and illegal forest operations, while the FSD has blamed the communities. Community members often claim that FSD officials are conniving with illegal operators to commit the crimes, and that they do not properly enforce laws or monitor the forests frequently. Community members feel reluctant to report illegal activities because they are often betrayed by FSD officials who also fail to prosecute offenders.
FSD officials, on the other hand, claim that the illegal operators live in the communities and are protected by community members, and also that the communities sometimes resist the arrest of the perpetrators. They further mention that, in situations where illegal operators are not from the community, the community members give them accommodation and aid them in their operations. This they claim always hinders the fight against illegal operations and deforestation.