Photo: Kakum National Park in Ghana, by Erik Cleves Kristensen, Flickr/cc.
Ghana is the first country in Africa to have a fully implemented VPA, which entered into force on 1 December 2009. Civil society has used the process to highlight and move towards resolving anomalies in forest law, and to bring difficult issues of tenure to the table. What remains now is for the independent assessment team, contracted in mid-2018, to be mobilised. Ghana has declared themselves ready for this assessment to commence and once this process starts, are hopeful that a decision on readiness for licensing will be reached before the end of 2019.
Ghana has around 2.6 million hectares of forest reserves dedicated to timber production, and an additional 2 million hectares of crop land that also produce timber. The country also has 500 000 hectares of unreserved forests. The forest sector is the fourth largest contributor to Ghana’s GDP.
Ghana will be the second country to issue FLEGT licences. In January 2019, the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources and the Head of the EU Delegation to Ghana, Ambassador Diana Acconcia, announced that Ghana was embarking upon the final joint assessment of its Legality Assurance System (GhLAS), which focuses on the themes described in Annex VII of the VPA. The final joint assessment is now half finished: the independent assessors will carry out another field mission in July, focussing on underwater logging, plantations, salvage permits, secondary and tertiary processing of timber and rosewood logging.
Essentially, the joint assessment will determine Ghana’s readiness to issue FLEGT licences. So far, it has noted Ghana’s substantial progress since signing its VPA in 2009.
The findings from the joint assessment will classify noncompliance in two categories: minor and major. Those issues that do not significantly affect the operations of the GhLAS, and are unlikely to obstruct issuance of FLEGT licences, would be minor. Major issues would be those critical to the operationality of the GhLAS and should be addressed prior to the launch of the FLEGT licensing scheme.
Halfway through the assessment, CSOs are still following up on issues including: Conversion of extant leases and ratification; Forest Management Plans; Social Responsibility Agreements (SRAs); testing transparency issues within LI 2252; environmental, health and safety issues; and training and capacity-building for small-scale holders.
One of the most important issues that must be addressed before any decision on readiness for licensing is the conversion of extant leases into Timber Use Contracts (TUCs). This moved a step forward on 6 May when Ghana’s Forestry Commission announced the publication of procedures for how the conversion should happen. Timber companies had to submit applications to convert by 7 June. Those that fail to convert will no longer be able to operate. CSOs expect timber companies to convert without hesitation since the Forestry Commission has worked closely with industry members to ensure that conversion goes smoothly. CSOs have offered to support some of the small-scale industry members with the application process.
CSOs in the Legal Working Group have communicated their preparedness to support both the Forestry Commission and industry with the conversion process. For instance, CSOs are ready to assist timber companies with negotiating and completing SRAs, particularly for communities in converted concessions.
While the conversion process may be relatively quick, ratification of the converted leases is Parliament’s responsibility; no specific deadline has been fixed. CSOs are willing to work with the Forestry Commission and the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources to engage Parliament for speedy ratification: the longer ratification takes, the longer timber companies must wait before receiving FLEGT licences for timber from converted TUCs.
Finally, despite the government ban, illegal logging of rosewood remains a concern. Container loads are regularly caught in transit from northern Ghana to the Tema port. However, CSOs are concerned that these illegally logged rosewoods are bypassing the GhLAS. Once FLEGT licences are issued, any wood or wood product from Ghana that does not pass through the GhLAS will be declared illegal.
Beyond the joint assessment, one area of significant improvement throughout the entire VPA process is participation of stakeholders in decision-making. Before the VPA negotiations began in 2007, the government and CSOs had no tradition of working together. Since then, the government has collaborated with CSOs and coordinated meetings so that CSO members can attend. CSOs are now a key part of Ghana’s forest governance, and the government and CSOs are cooperating to make sure any issues found in the second joint assessment are solved before licensing.
The Ghanaian Government, CSOs and industry are working together to ensure that Ghana will be ready to issue FLEGT licences at the end of their final joint assessment.
Last updated in July 2019.
A brief history of the VPA process, from a civil society perspective
In 2015 civil society in Ghana published an assessment of the FLEGT VPA process in the country, with a focus on implementation.
A civil society counter-brief published when negotiations were concluded in 2010 provides a more detailed assessment of the negotiation process.
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