Forestry Sector Policy Review Underway
Ghana's Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources is currently reviewing one of the sector's major policies the 1994 Forest and Wildlife Policy.
The review has been necessitated by a number of emerging issues including institutional and legislative reforms within the forest sector and current global initiatives such as the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) between the Government of Ghana and the European Union (EU), the EU's Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) and the Non-Legally Binding Instruments (NLBI) project.
The new Forest and Wildlife Policy, which is currently in its final draft version boasts some key elements. There is a shift from timberization to biodiversity conservation which represents the new policy's main focus on conserving and protecting biological resources, as opposed to feeding the timber industry which the 1994 policy did by prioritising the provision of raw materials for industry over conservation of natural resources.
The new policy is also focusing on the restoration of degraded landscapes and has now made plantation development the government's top priority.
It recognizes the need for increased involvement of local people in forest decision-making, more support for small and medium forest enterprises (SMFEs)and has integrated climate change concerns.
The new policy further embraces global forestry instruments and is aligned to the new ECOWAS Forest Policy developed in 2005.
Commenting on the 1994 Forest and Wildlife Policy, Joseph Osiakwan, a Senior Planning Officer and Coordinator of the Policy Review Process, said significant achievements were made through its implementation.
For instance, the discretionary allocation of resources that granted large concessions to timber firms without any due process was changed to a transparent open bidding method for Timber Utilisation Contracts (TUC). Osiakwan acknowledged however, that some major challenges still plagued the sector in spite of the gains made.
Theseinclude high rates of deforestation and forest degradation, thereby depleting the raw material base for industry, low value-added processing of timber, low morale of forestry staff and performance below expectation, unexplored potential in ecotourism and under-tapped potential of civil society contribution to management decision-making.
Mr. Osiakwan mentioned that the 1996 Forestry Development Master Plan that supported the implementation of the Policy was also being reviewed.
The Chief Director of the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, Bruce Banoeng-Yakubo, said the policy review was an important intervention for sustainable forest management, which according to him has implications for the country?s security. The Coordinator of Forest Watch Ghana, Kingsley Bekoe, commended the review process saying it has allowed enough time for consultations, adding, we civil society groups are comfortable with the new focus the move from timberization to biodiversity conservation, capacity support and clarification of issues on tree tenure and benefits sharing. He hopes that the new Forest Development Master Plan document will also reflect all the various issues in the new Forest and Wildlife Policy, for implementation.
In a related development, Ghana's Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have for some time now dedicated their efforts at examining various forest sector initiatives, the likely impacts of their implementation on the livelihoods of local communities and the role CSOs could play in implementing these initiatives.
At a recent workshop in Accra, about 50 representatives of CSOs including Environmental Protection Association of Ghana, Institute of Cultural Affairs, Religious Bodies Network on Climate Change and Tropenbos International Ghana from across the country, deliberated on initiatives including the Ghana-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), Non-Legally Binding Instruments (NLBI), Forest Investment Programme (FIP), National Forest Plantation Development Programme, REDD Financing and Carbon Trading, and the on-going policy reform. The workshop was facilitated by Civic Response, an Accra based civil society organisation.
The consensus of the CSOs was that all of the initiatives were laudable in terms of their over all goals and objectives, which include sustainable forest management, establishing the legality of the country's forest products, improvement of the livelihoods of forest fringe communities, equitable sharing of benefits, poverty alleviation, and creation of forest based employment avenues such as tree planting and protection of boundaries.
The participants were of the view that the Forestry Commission (FC), its regional and district offices were not doing enough to educate local communities on the new initiatives.
They maintained that all stakeholders particularly local community members needed to be abreast of all of these initiatives, so that they could make informed proposals and decisions.
CSOs have been educating forest fringe communities on some of these initiatives, but members believed that the onus was on the FC to spearhead such education, as spelt out in the Forestry Commission Service Charter.
The Charter mandates the Commission to educate the public and forest fringe communities on forestry issues among other things.
They were also concerned about how local communities would fare following the implementation of these initiatives. The participants wondered whether community members would still have free access to the forests.
They contended that if access would be denied them, then efforts should be made to adequately compensate them.
The participants appreciated the on-going policy reform to review specific polices including the 1994 Forest and Wildlife Policy, saying there are lots of issues to be considered for incorporation in the new document.
They declared that their interest as CSOs was to ensure that the final product addresses issues such as local community rights of access and equitable benefits sharing.