The project kicked off with a few start-up activities such as staff recruitment, project launches with participation from European Union Country Delegations, inception workshops, and project baseline studies in all the four project countries.Other activities for the first year included:
Communities: With their new capacity for independent forest monitoring, communities and civil society have increasingly been reporting forest offences and illegal activities, and requesting to see timber operators’ permits and documentation before they can start logging. Communities are actively participating in forest law enforcement, which the Forestry Commission has acknowledged is a direct outcome of this project’s activities.
The community forest forums have enabled forest fringe communities to participate in forest management decision-making and to know their interest in the forest is being accounted for. Communities can now participate in open discussions of critical issues such as illegal chainsaw operations, corruption among forest officials and traditional authorities, forest fires, community rights, and land tenure. In Cameroon, the forest forums have given civil society an opportunity to contribute to the review of inventories’ operating standards, while in Cote d’Ivoire, communities have new awareness about their rights and responsibilities in forest management and how they can ensure these are fulfilled. In Ghana, a joint communiqué was delivered to the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, giving a unified position on forest management from the various stakeholders and drawing policymakers’ attention to critical forest issues.
Skills training for wood trade associations: Now that the wood trade associations in Ghana have new knowledge of forest laws and governance and new skills in advocacy and negotiation, they have been putting pressure on the government to convert existing forest concession leases to legally acceptable Timber Utilization Contracts (UTCs).
Meanwhile in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the new advocacy skills have resulted in local communities demanding their rights in forest ownership, access and use, and questioning the legitimacy of operations by some forest businesses. Communities are pushing for transparency and accountability in forest governance and management.
Media: Following the media trainings in Cameroon, one journalist decided to investigate accusations made by villagers that a local senator had sold their lands to HEVECAM agribusiness. The journalist was initially threatened after requesting an interview with the senator. After several unsuccessful attempts to make contact, the journalist publicized the accusations, which prompted the senator to explain everything to the communities. Other journalists visiting the Wijma area purposely extended their stay to continue collecting data from local logging companies. The training and new awareness have clearly led to journalists taking their own initiatives to expose irregularities and ensure transparency and accountability, which is a very positive outcome.
Overall result: Forest stakeholders, civil society and the media have been increasingly willing and able to monitor the actions of forest management authorities and forest users since the start of the project. They are questioning actions, requesting information and documentation, and demanding for their rights and roles in forest management to be respected and fulfilled. This is gradually improving transparency and accountability in forest management and governance within the project countries.
The 72 dialogue platforms established as part of the project have enabled communities to participate in forest governance. These have also given civil society organizations new opportunities to learn about their respective governments’ forest programmes and policies and to contribute to forest governance through independent monitoring of forest operations to ensure they don’t abuse their country’s forest laws and regulations.
Read about the 3 years CiSoPFLEG project here…