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GHANA: Beware of Donors' eagerness to show quick results

External Reference/Copyright
Issue date: 
April 12, 2010
Publisher Name: 
Rural Media Network
Alhassan Imoru
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Experts are skeptical as to how fast and easy it will be to implement REDD-Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation-in a country like Ghana, where REDD is essentially an issue of forest governance.  

REDD is typically portrayed as a quick and cost-effective means to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. This is to be achieved through payment schemes that compensate agents for refraining from deforestation and forest degradation.  Based on a detailed case study of the causes of deforestation and forest degradation in Ghana, the experts question whether REDD will be that fast and easy. “What we warn against are reforms pushed and financed by donors with their usual eagerness to show quick results,” the experts say.  

According to them, “such attempts are doomed to fail just like donor-driven attempts to reform forest fees, timber rights allocation and harvesting regulations.” But the experts say there are other things donors can do, citing that based on detailed studies of underlying causes of deforestation and forest degradation, facilitation and support to a broad based policy debate, especially the participation and voice of Civil Society advocacy groups, NGOs and farmers’ associations may assist in tipping the political balance in favour of reforms.  

This could be complemented by pilot activities to demonstrate and gain experiences on issues of relevance of the success of REDD.  

These views are contained in a Policy Brief titled: “Why REDD Will Be Neither Fast Nor Easy: The example of Ghana,” produced by the University of Copenhagen. The brief was authored by Christian Pilegaard Hansen, Jens Friis Lund and Thorsten Treue, all of the Danish Centre for Forest, Landscape and Planning, University of Copenhagen.  

According to the study, the governance regime is highly centralized and all natural timber resources are under the authority of the national Forestry Commission, which through a benefit sharing scheme, redistributes a “modest” share to the land owning local communities (the stool).  

The analysis of the experts suggest that official policies “favour the political and administrative elite by securing political support and /or personal enrichment”. From the perspective of the political and administrative elite, they are not policy failures but arrangements that successfully serve particular interests.  

The experts say political control over access to, and price of, standing timber through discretionary allocation of formal timber rights and official forest fees, creates rent-seeking opportunities for favoured timber firms, who come to owe their fortunes to the political and administrative elite.  

The windfall profits earned by the wood processing sector provide a basis for political and financial kickbacks to those in charge of timber rights allocation and forest fee setting. “Yet, low forest fees result in minimum pay-off to rural communities thus undermining their incentives to engage in conserving timber resources on their land,” they stated.  

According to the study, production of lumber by chainsaw operators for the domestic market was crimilised by a ban in 1997, but has continued unabated. The ban is not enforced because denying urban citizens’ access to lumber, while maintaining a sizeable export, would be politically suicidal. This has resulted in a timber harvest that is at least four times the sustainable level.  

The experts say to be effective REDD readiness activities must focus on reforms that remove the political and administrative elite’s discretionary powers over timber rights allocation and resource pricing and enhance regulatory compliance.  

“Such reforms would run counter to national growth objectives since reducing the timber harvest would take away employment opportunities in the wood processing sector and reduce foreign exchange earnings,” they stated.  

Readiness activities include reforms of forest legislation and land tenure, clarification of different actors’ roles and responsibilities, establishment of carbon stock monitoring schemes as well as capacity building and awareness-raising.  

According to the study, REDD payments could potentially soften such negative effects, but the uncertainty about how much money Ghana would actually get after a period of readiness is likely to make politicians reluctant to implement reforms during the readiness phase. “Moreover, reforms would also curb the political and personal benefits that members of the political and administrative elite derive from the resource,” the study added.  

The experts say REDD payments are likely to come under close national and international scrutiny and is thus not necessarily an attractive alternative to the unofficial timber revenues that the political and administrative elite currently enjoys.  

Although degraded, the experts suggest that Ghana’s timber resource is yet to reach the point where the political economy loses steam entirely, and where the negative impacts of deforestation and forest degradation are severely felt by the average Ghanaian, in the form of declining lumber supply or sharply increasing prices.  

They added that rather than supporting another round of apparent forest sector reforms that do not change control over forest resources or forest revenues, “donors should support in-depth studies of underlying causes of deforestation and forest degradation.” The results of such studies could, in combination with pilot REDD activities, serve as basis for abroad-based policy dialogue. This will be time consuming but may ultimately result in more effective means of reducing deforestation and forest degradation.


Extpub | by Dr. Radut