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Ghana Approves Landmark Policy To Curb Deforestation

When in 1997 the Parliament of Ghana passed the Timber Resources Management law (ACT 547), the spirit was to have legislation to ensure the utilisation of the natural resource in a sustainable manner.

Section 19 of the Act prescribed the conversion of all extant timber concessions, leases and permits into Timber Utilisation Contracts (TUCs) to make for proper regulation.

No doubt, that was a brilliant piece of law by a nation then toddling its way back onto democratic ways after over a decade of continuous military rule.

But a quarter of a century after its promulgation, not much has changed.

The brutal truth, however, is that things have gotten worse in the absence of enforcement.

Ghana and its western neighbour, Ivory Coast, have since deservedly been taking the flak for the worst record of deforestation and forest degradation globally.

The West African duo also together produce over 60% of the world’s cocoa beans, the primary ingredient for chocolates.

Ivory Coast, for example, reduced its tree cover by 300,000 hectares a year between 1990 and 2015, according to the country’s forestry ministry.

Ghana, on the other hand, lost 135,000 hectares of forest per year between 1990 and 2000, as reported by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The Forestry Commission of Ghana has said about 80% of the country’s forest resources under state management had been lost to illegal logging activities since 1990, while mining poses the biggest threat.

But it is cocoa production that is roleplayed as the villain of deforestation in an unrelenting narrative, in spite of evidence pointing to illegal and poorly-regulated logging activities.

Within this context, the decision by Ghana’s Cabinet on March 31, 2022, finally granting approval for the conversion of extant timber concessions and permits into Timber Utilisation Contracts (TUCs) is, indeed, significant.

Civil society and environmental advocacy groups have also hailed the decision as a victory for years of work.

“For us as NGOs, the most important element of the whole process is that sanity and clarity will be brought to the timber permit system and that no minister or forestry commission official can issue a timber permit without parliamentary ratification and approval,” said Obed Owusu Addai, Executive Director of EcoCare Ghana.

Prior to this momentous cabinet decision, Addai has been in court with the Forestry Commission litigating the subject.

He believes forest fringe communities, which bear the harsh effects of losing the tree cover, must be compensated.

“Converting the extant leases also meant that communities that stay close to the forest will get the social responsibility agreement (SRA) that is due them,” Addai said.

He added, “Again, the companies will pay Timber Rights Fees (TRF) which will be used for developmental projects for forest fringe communities.”

The EcoCare Ghana boss was particularly elated that “the cabinet approval paves the way for the conversion to be done and for Ghana to finally declare readiness to issue a FLEGT license”, a position shared by the government.

The policy will “put Ghana on track in discharging her obligations under the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Union (EU) to issue Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade(FLEGT) Licenses by the end of 2022 to cover all timber exports to the EU Market,” the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources noted a statement announcing the Cabinet decision.

Per the decision, all 156 existing timber concessions and permits will effectively be converted into TUCs for ratification by Parliament when it returns from recess.

“Government, through the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, is confident that, Parliament will ratify these long-overdue TUCs, to ensure the sustainable management of our forest resources,” it said.

The action will be in fulfilment of Article 268(1) of the Constitution and Section 9 of the Timber Resources Management.

It is hoped to, among others, provide the Government with the legal backing to fight illegal trade in timber, both on the domestic and international markets.

According to the government, the policy will “enable the country to derive appropriate revenue from holders of these contracts through the payment of Timber Right Fees and other statutory charges.”

The introduction of Timber Utilization Contracts (TUCs) in the forestry sector is expected to engender a competitive system in the allocation of timber resources.

The policy reform is further seen as critical support for the fight against deforestation and forest degradation arising out of the illegal harvesting of timber.

Thus Ghana’s bold policy decision, forthwith, proscribes the harvesting of timber without contracts approved by Parliament.

This new regulatory regime is hoped to enhance environmental and natural resources governance and contribute to the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) 1,2,13 and 15 regarding no poverty, zero hunger, climate action and life on land, respectively.

“By this approval, Ghana has made significant progress in the legal trade of timber and will become the first African country to meet the European Union’s (EU) requirement to trade in legal timber and the second in the World, next to Indonesia,” according to the Ministry.

For the Samuel Abu Jinapor-led Ministry, the Cabinet’s approval of the policy affirms the Government’s commitment to ensuring the legal and sustainable management of Ghana’s forest resources.

“The Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources is committed to the efficient and sustainable management and utilisation of the natural resources of our country in general, and our forest resources, in particular,” it explained.

Expectations are that the gains of an improved national forest resources governance and sustainable utilisation administration will rub positively on the cocoa sector, as it works to relieve itself of a smeared reputation as a driver of deforestation.

West Africa’s cocoa is among six commodities targeted by European Union’s Due Diligence legislation for environment, human rights and infringements.

Kojo Hayford
Source Cocoa Post
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