Technology Based Forest Monitoring
One major stakeholder that can contribute much to forest monitoring as part of forest governance is the forest fringe communities who serve as the grass-root stakeholders. Until now, they have not had much involvement in monitoring forest operations due to low capacity and knowledge. They could however be very effective in detecting forest illegal activities through monitoring when given the requisite training and technology.
Friends of the Earth-Ghana (FoE-Ghana) and the Rainforest Foundation-UK (RFUK) are partnering to pilot a two year project titled “Community Based Real Time Monitoring” in Ghana with funding from the DFID-FGMC in support of the EU-Ghana Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) on forest governance and trade. The project seeks to build the capacity of forest fringe communities to detect and report forest illegal activities in real time (as and when they happen or chanced upon) with the use of a mobile phone application and Information Technology Systems. It is meant to test the opportunity of integrating such monitoring systems into the national forest law enforcement mechanisms and explore suitable incentives for communities as a means of containing illegal forest operations and contribute to implementation of the VPA in Ghana. Such systems are meant to generate data that could influence decisions on day to day management of the resources, improve detection and reporting of forest infractions as and when they happen, help to identify risk areas quickly, and ensure law enforcement, corrective action, transparency and good feedback.
The overall aim of the project is to reduce forest sector illegalities by enhancing the role of local communities and the low cost technology in forest monitoring, thus improving the quality and availability of information on forest infraction and the effectiveness of law enforcement.
This project is being piloted in two forest district in Ghana (one each from Ashanti and Brong Ahafo Regions), with one forest reserve and three forest fringe communities. Community members will be trained to be conversant with forest laws, and systems application to be able to collect quality data which will be sent onto a centralized data based systems. There will be collaboration with the Forestry Commission and Forest Services Division to verify the data for prompt action (law enforcement) towards verification and corrective actions to be taken. This project will not be a stand-alone project but will build on other forest monitoring initiatives as well as collaborate with other relevant stakeholders to help reduce forest illegalities in the selected forest districts.
Community-based real-time forest monitoring systems could help improve how forests are protected and governed. Building on earlier attempts at independent forest monitoring, it could greatly improve the amount, quality and transparency of data about changes in forest areas. It could make it easier to assess the quality of governmental enforcement where illegalities are observed and reported.
It is expected that communities will be empowered to monitor forest operations through new low-cost technologies in a risk-managed environment and hence ensure transparency, enhance law enforcement and improve quality of information on illegal activities, and contribute to improving forest governance in these and other policy areas for reforms as well as support the EU-Ghana VPA implementation.
You can read more about the process involved here…
PROJECT PROGRESS UPDATE 2016
The Community Real Time Monitoring project has been training forest community members to be independent forest monitors for the forests around their communities. Here’s an overview of the training event followed by the background to the Community Real Time Monitoring project.
Training for 30 Community Forest Monitors
Friends of the Earth-Ghana, under the Community Based Real Time Forest Monitoring Project, has trained 30 Community Forest monitors. This is part of the activities to build the capacities of communities to detect and report illegal forest activities using Real Time Monitoring technology through mobile phone applications, as well as raise awareness on rights and responsibilities of forest dependent communities. The 30 trainees were selected from six pilot communities participating in the project (Nsuta, Gambia №1, Kokofu №1, Kyekyewire, Nagole and Pakyi) within 2 forest districts (Goaso and Nkawie forest Districts).
The trainees were taken through a 3-day intensive training covering key areas such as forest policy and legislation, community rights and responsibilities, how the Real Time Monitoring system works, independent forest monitoring techniques, detecting and reporting forest offences, evidence gathering and Social Responsibility Agreements. After each session, the trainees were divided into smaller groups to make presentations on the workshop topics to test their understanding and also build their confidence for negotiating their community’s rights and benefits.
The trainees exhibited an understanding of issues discussed during evaluation/recap session and also expressed willingness to contribute to independent community based forest monitoring to enhance sustainable forest management.
The trained Community Forest Monitors are expected to lead their respective communities to monitor and report forest infractions for quick response of the authorities concerned. With this training, participating communities are now empowered to assert and defend their forest rights and to fairly demand what is due them from logging companies by way of social responsibility agreement negotiations.
PROJECT PROGRESS UPDATE 2017
A second group of observers have been selected from project communities for training to identify illegal forest activities and to collect baseline data from the forest reserves. The communities selected in Goaso Forest District were Dominase, Gyasekrom, and Agravi, and in Nkawie Forest District were Sereboaso, Pamuroso, Bofaaso, and Akorabourkrom. Opinion leaders and community members were consulted over selections of the trainee monitors.
Taking into account feedback from previous trainings, refresher trainings have been organised to enhance the knowledge of 17 existing monitors on the RTM system. FoE-Ghana collaborated with Forest Service Division Officers in Nkawie and Goaso to also train 21 new monitors on Ghana’s forest laws, collection and transmission of forest data, and monitoring techniques for Real Time Monitoring (RTM). The monitors are now confident in using the law to determine when an activity is illegal.
FoE-Ghana’s field officers are visiting communities every week to monitor the activities within the communities and to attend promptly to any technical issues as soon as they arise.
Communities are being incentivised with items such as roofing sheets, books and chairs for their community schools to encourage their sustained participation in monitoring activities.
To promote the sharing of experiences and best practices, the RTM project partners (FoE-Ghana, FODER in Cameroon, and GASHE in DRC) participated in a training workshop in Yaounde, Cameroon, organised by RFUK. Country-specific implementation procedures were shared and discussed, including best practices to be adopted in year 3 for a more measurable impact.
Social Responsibility Agreements (SRA)
Available information on the SRAs so far agreed between communities and the logging companies has been gathered, and FoE-Ghana is building a database to complement the FSD’s own database for storing information on SRAs and assessing progress in implementation.
The communities of Pakyi and Nagole in Nkawie Forest District have started negotiations with timber companies towards their SRAs, and FoE-Ghana is supporting them with guidelines and helping them demand their SRA rights. FoE-Ghana continues to follow up on these issues, while communities continue making regular checks on timber rights holders and the FSD to ensure their rights are fulfilled.
A further 16 communities in Nkawie and Goaso Forest Districts have been trained in their rights as they relate to the SRAs, as well as in their roles and responsibilities for forest protection. They are ready to engage the FSD and timber rights holders to negotiate their SRAs. Further community awareness and sensitisation programmes are still required. Meetings have also taken place between project communities to share experiences on organising advocacy activities, and an activity plan for further lesson sharing has been drawn up.
Technological and methodological issues
FoE-Ghana has developed an Illegality Grid of illegal forest activities that has been incorporated into the Collector Application. The grid and the app have both been updated on the communities’ project phones, and the new trial Collector App is being tested by community monitors. Community hubs for data transmission have been established and updated in Nkawie and Goaso.
Putting RTM into practice
Meetings with the Nkawie and Goaso Forest District officers on RTM data verification and use discussed who should receive the alerts of illegal forest activities, how to follow up and verify the alerts, and which alerts should be prioritised. FSD officers are willing to support the monitoring process, and FoE-Ghana is pressing for a formalised process to monitoring and investigation of illegal activities, apprehension of illegal operators, and enforcement of the laws to ensure effective collaboration. Nkawie and Goaso FSD offices have agreed to joint verification of the alerts, and both have provided contact persons to whom text messages or emails can be sent to alert them on illegal activities until the platform is fully operational.
Participation in forest management
Ten community forums have been organised to discuss community rights, illegal forest activities and the need for community participation in forest monitoring and management. This has encouraged communities to intensify their monitoring and reporting on forest activities. To help facilitate this, the RTM observers will participate in an upcoming National Forest Forum.