The first year of the project has been very successful, and several participants have initiated their own practical actions. This is the best result because they are using their new knowledge to introduce real and effective changes. We kicked off the project with start-up activities such as staff hiring and orientation, establishing a project management team, and procuring equipment and materials.
Main activities for year one included:
The project so far has had lots of positive impacts, and we have highlighted a few of them here.
Artisanal timber groups and SMEs: Besides being trained to comply with FLEGT/VPA legal timber requirements for the domestic market, the artisanal millers and SME trainees also learned the importance of ensuring the raw materials they use come from legal sources. They were given were given examples of legal timber, such as residual yields and abandoned or confiscated logs. This prompted the association of artisanal millers in the Akrodie District of Brong Ahafo Region to take the initiative and approach two other forest stakeholders to negotiate access to legal timber. The stakeholders are the Log and Lumber Limited (LLL), which has the timber rights for the Bosambepo Forest Reserve, and the Goaso District Office of the Forest Service Division (FSD). The millers’ association successfully negotiated permission to salvage timber off-cuts from the floor of Abonyere and Bosampebo Forest Reserves, and a Memorandum of Understanding was prepared to seal the agreement.
When they had confirmed access to the wood off-cuts, the millers’ association then committed to supply raw and semi-processed timber for making school furniture, window and door frames, doors and other timber products. The Ghana Education Service, hospitals and clinics of the two local District Assemblies are interested in these products, and demand for them is also high on the local domestic market.
The artisanal millers in Juaso District of the Ashanti Region took a different initiative and intensified their efforts to establish plantations that will ensure their own source of legal timber into the future.
These are exciting outcomes because, first, they are unexpected and, second, because they are the result of participants’ own initiatives to apply their new knowledge in practical ways to overcome barriers they experience in sourcing legal timber. And, because they are locally owned activities, they will be sustained over the long term.
Media trainings: Over 35 media people were trained to identify and report corruption in the forestry sector and to map forest corruption risks in Ghana. They also learned about proper procedures for granting logging permits. Issues discussed during the trainings included: definitions, nature, types and elements of corruption in the forestry sector; unacceptable practices; and causes of corruption.
Ten different types of corruption were examined including nepotism, fraud, bribery, collusion, embezzlement and grand corruption. Important for the media is to know about Forestry Corruption Reporting, which emphasizes: illegal logging; illegal timber processing; smuggling of timber products; and failure to pay taxes and fees.
Participants also discussed how the media could positively contribute to exposing corrupt and illegal practices in the forest sector. Some of the trainees argued that giving financial rewards to informants willing to report cases of corrupt and illegal practices is unlikely to be effective because some culprits threaten informants or lure them to their side. They also felt it wouldn’t be effective to offer rewards to journalists for exposing corruption or illegalities because media house editorial policies generally discourage journalists from making such exposés.
They came up with their own idea: they proposed to form a network of journalists and media houses that will: 1) educate people on corrupt and illegal forest practices; and 2) act as investigators and whistle-blowers to report on corrupt and illegal forest practices. They felt this would solve the problem because it would mitigate the threats posed by culprits and dispel the fear that some journalists feel when they want to expose corruption and illegalities in the forest sector.
Forums for forest fringe communities: The anti-corruption forums educated communities about their roles and rights in forest management, such as their rights to a share of the revenue from logging in forest reserves and farmers’ rights to compensation following logging on their farms. Communities were also advised on the obligation of timber companies to agree Social Responsibility Agreements with them so they gain a fair share of the forests’ benefits. The forest fringe communities said their biggest challenge is their difficulty in accessing information about logging operations and related revenue. They learned they can demand this information from the District assemblies and the Forest Services Division of the Forestry Commission.
As a result of the new knowledge gained, the communities are now very keen to establish anti-corruption community forums. Some have already taken the initiative and organized monthly meetings, also attended by representatives of the District Assemblies and the Forest Services Division.
Durbars for consumer groups: The consumer groups attending these durbars included estate developers, government ministries, departments and agencies, District Assemblies, and a number of government and forest sector institutions (GTA, GTMO, SSTMA, WAG, FAWAG and DOLTA). These represent the major timber consumers and we raised their awareness of illegal timber and corruption in the forest sector so they can demand legal timber when making their purchases. The participants learned about the proposed Domestic Legal Timber Procurement Policy of Ghana and took the initiative to seek further information while they await implementation of the policy.