Ghana champions rights and fair compensation for forest communities
Ghana’s work to promote the legal timber trade, in partnership with the European Union (EU), strongly emphasizes involving local communities who live in or near forests.
Yet many farmers and communities don’t understand their rights, which means that illegal activity by loggers has often gone unchecked in Ghana’s off-reserve forests. The non-profit association Sustainable Forest Management Partnership-Ghana has been working to increase awareness among farmers of their right to negotiate for compensation when logging damages crops on their land. The project has informed farmers and local communities of their entitlements, while also helping loggers to better understand their responsibilities under the law. The project has contributed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by improving local livelihoods and strengthening forest governance by increasing transparency.
For farmers and forest communities living in the 500 000 hectares of forested land outside Ghana’s national forest reserves, legal loggers wanting to fell trees on their land can be a mixed blessing. The arrival of loggers can mean a welcome boost to household income. But, with falling trees, road construction and heavy equipment and vehicles, logging can seriously damage farmers’ food and cash crops, compact the soil and even pollute precious water sources.
Recognizing the rights of communities affected by logging is one of the cornerstones of the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) signed by Ghana and the EU in 2009 as part of the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan. Ghana’s loggers will need to prove the legality of their timber in order to trade on the international market under the VPA, which also commits to tackling legal trade on the domestic market. Already, loggers are required to sign social responsibility agreements with forest communities affected by logging and pay fair compensation for any damage caused to their crops. The regulation is especially relevant for Ghana’s off-reserve forests, which are a major contributor of wood and wood products to the domestic market and are usually farmland or dedicated community forests where livelihoods can easily be disrupted.
Despite the law, a study conducted across six forest districts found that many farmers and forest communities were unaware of their rights, and suggested that loggers might be using this to their advantage. Farmers claimed that although loggers had permits, they often delayed payments, failed to deliver on their promises, or even felled trees without the farmers’ consent. Ninety percent of farmers interviewed said they were unhappy with the compensation paid to them, which came from verbal agreements made with the loggers.
“I accepted any amount as compensation for my damaged crops,” said farmer Barima Agyarkwa Bekoe of the Nkawie Forest District. “Fifty of my cocoa trees were damaged and I accepted just 100 cedis (US $27).”
Dos and don’ts
To help rectify the situation, the non-profit association Sustainable Forest Management Partnership-Ghana has been working to foster greater awareness of the law in five forest regions.
The project team created and distributed a concise booklet of ‘dos and don'ts’ for Ghana Forestry Commission staff, loggers and farmers, clearly setting out the processes required for off-reserve logging and negotiating compensation.
The project provided in-person training for farmers on negotiating with loggers, and developed a framework for estimating how much farmers should be compensated in different scenarios. Loggers learned they must prove the legality of the wood they place on the market with written records of logging and compensation agreements.
Enhancing forest governance
The project has successfully raised awareness among loggers, farmers and community representatives in the five regions of their entitlements as well as their responsibilities to manage forests sustainably. Civil society organizations are now using the compensation framework to make farmers aware of their rights to compensation, payment and verification. Ghana’s Forestry Commission has also trained its staff to use templates developed by the project to guide loggers in negotiating and documenting payments.
“I can now confidently negotiate compensation, taking different elements into consideration during the negotiation process with a logger,” said Bekoe.
While improving farmers’ livelihoods and reducing illegal logging, the project has enhanced forest governance by increasing transparency as well as contributing to SDGs 2 (zero hunger and promoting sustainable agriculture), 15 (life on land), and 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions).
The project is also helping Ghana fulfil its VPA. The country is on track to be the second nation in the world – and the first in Africa – to issue FLEGT licences, which will certify that timber exported to the EU has been harvested, transported, processed and traded according to Ghanaian law.
Read original article on the FAO-EU FLEGT Programme website.
- Sustainable Forest Management Partnership-Ghana (SFMP-Ghana)
- Dos and don’ts booklet: Improving Of-reserve logging in support of functional VPA in Ghana
- Ghana FLEGT VPA website