Ghana and Indonesia: Major progress against illegal logging through Voluntary Partnership Agreements with EU, says study

Ghana and Indonesia have greatly improved forest governance and achieved measurable declines in illegal logging by implementing Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) with the EU, says a new study.

Teak (Tectona grandis) log yard. Jepara, Central Java, Indonesia by Murdani Usman / CIFOR

VPAs are a key component of the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan to address illegal logging. Of 15 countries negotiating or implementing VPAs, Ghana and Indonesia are closest to being ready to issue FLEGT licences to exports of verified legal timber products bound for the EU.

The study’s authors, Christine Overdevest of the University of Florida and Jonathan Zeitlin of the University of Amsterdam, say that: “By inaugurating fully functioning timber legality assurance systems whose operations can be publicly monitored, reviewed, and revised, the issuance of these licences will open a new era not only for these two countries, but also for the FLEGT initiative”.

The researchers say that even before the start of FLEGT licensing, VPA implementation has led to “substantially increased participation by civil society and other stakeholders in forest governance, greater transparency and accountability of forestry administration, and heightened recognition of community rights”.

The benefits of VPA implementation to date include:

  • Support to small-scale producers: In both countries, the VPA process has focused attention on protecting the needs and livelihoods of small producers in the transition to the new timber legality regime – in Ghana through the domestic market policy and in Indonesia through subsidised group certification.
  • Improved capacity and control: The authors note that Ghana’s VPA timber legality assurance system has begun to transform the practice of the Forestry Commission, “enhancing its capacity for sustainable forest management through accelerated updating of plans and species maps, as well as for regulatory enforcement through the use of audit reports to detect and correct operational problems, including non-compliance with Social Responsibility Agreements.”
  • Closing doors to corruption: In both countries, the VPAs have helped improve administrative oversight in forest governance, including by curtailing the discretionary awards of concessions and harvesting permits, and have created new mechanisms for exposing corruption across the supply chain.

Zeitlin and Overdevest say the VPAs have gone far beyond their central aim of ensuring the legality of timber. In both countries, VPA processes have proven to be “remarkably incisive” frameworks for exposing and addressing broader issues through multistakeholder dialogue.

  • In Ghana, such issues include regulation of administrative permitting, payment of Timber Rights Fees by large concession holders, observance of Social Rights Agreements with local communities, and the construction of a legal small-scale milling sector to supply the domestic market.
  • In Indonesia, major issues addressed through the VPA process include integrated land use planning, reducing corruption in public administration and permit allocation, and recognition of indigenous peoples’ customary rights.

The researchers say the joint committees of EU and national representatives overseeing VPA implementation, with multistakeholder bodies reporting to them, have played crucial roles in addressing such issues by serving as “robust platforms for accountability, collective learning, and consensus formation”.

Overdevest and Zeitlin also highlight the ways VPAs have empowered civil society groups to expose gaps in VPA implementation, hold public authorities accountable for redressing them, and collaborate in developing mutually acceptable solutions.

“Civil society groups in turn have made an indispensable contribution to the effectiveness and legitimacy of the VPAs in both countries by feeding independent local knowledge about their on-the-ground operation into the joint review process with the EU on the one hand, while building domestic public and community support for their objectives on the other.”

Download the paper Experimentalism in Transnational Forest Governance: Implementing EU Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Voluntary Partnership Agreements in Indonesia and Ghana