The EU’s Proposed Regulation on deforestation-free products is potentially a crucial tool for fighting deforestation in Ghana and could complement the Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) the EU has signed with many timber-producing countries, including Ghana.
However, for Fern’s Ghanaian partner, Civic Response - who is on the frontline of protecting their countries’ forests and the rights of those who depend on them - there remain unanswered questions, as well as some potentially major loopholes in the draft Regulation.
One of these concerns is smallholders.
The EU is the world’s largest importer of cocoa, much of it from Ghana, yet the impact of this legislation on smallholders who dominate Ghana’s cocoa market has not yet been properly considered: until such an assessment is done, there are fears that smallholders may have to carry a disproportionate burden for complying with the Regulation.
To secure their families’ survival, smallholders are forced to expand the land they grow crops on. This leads to more deforestation and environmental degradation, which has a direct negative consequence on smallholders themselves.
Albert Katako of Civic Response explains that as well as being directly affected by the Regulation, smallholders will be key to guaranteeing its success: “it is vital that their views on it are heard and that the farmers are supported to understand and go through this process with minimum disadvantage to them financially.” This is why Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in the Ghanaian forestry sector will join with other stakeholders to carry out an analysis on its consequences for smallholders and other parties, including the private sector and the Ghana Cocoa Board, COCOBOD. What’s already clear though, is that smallholders should be offered specific support and given adequate payment for their products.
Civic Response also hopes that, as the Regulation comes closer to existence, the EU will give us the platform to raise the findings from a series of meetings that we and other Ghanaian CSOs working in the forests and cocoa sectors held.
From a Ghanaian perspective a serious shortcoming is that the Regulation does not cover mining, which is a bigger driver of deforestation in Ghana than cocoa. To be effective, gold, diamonds and bauxite must therefore come under the Regulation’s scope.
The Regulation’s definition of forests, forest degradation and deforestation should be determined nationally and follow those already agreed in the VPA stakeholder process. It is national policy that all lands outside forest reserves are designated for agriculture. This could be addressed by giving smallholders sufficient financial compensation to help them restore land after it has been cleared, or by promoting agroforestry among smallholders – so that cocoa farms with adequate tree cover (at least 10 per cent) would not be considered as forest degradation. Katako explains: “Regarding timber exports under the legislation, Civic Response and other Ghanaian stakeholders want FLEGT [Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade] licensed timber to get a ‘green lane’ as already agreed in the VPA, and not have to prove due diligence for the sustainability or the legality portion of the legislation. This is because sustainability and legality are very adequately addressed in Ghana’s VPA.”
In contrast to the VPA - which was arrived at through multi-stakeholder deliberative processes - the Regulation is more ‘top-down’ and unilateral, although articles 27 and 28 do provide mechanisms for national stakeholders to input. The Regulation needs to apply the lessons we learned in the FLEGT VPA process and build on the VPA model. The Ghana Wood Tracking traceability system, for instance, was developed in the timber sector, but enriched by the inputs from multiple stakeholders. The Cocoa Management System – a national cocoa traceability system – is currently being developed by the Ghanaian government and could learn useful lessons from the Ghana Wood Tracking System. Ghanaian NGOs have already been encouraging this cross-fertilisation, including via a meeting that EcoCare Ghana organised on 8 April 2022 between Ghanaian government and those NGOs implementing the wood tracking system and developing the Cocoa Management System.
In Ghana meanwhile, the VPA itself is at a crucial stage.
While the EU appears reticent to continue working on and financing FLEGT, significant progress is happening on the ground, and Ghana is close to being the second country in the world to be awarded a FLEGT license, meaning timber is guaranteed to be harvested, processed and exported legally.
Ghana has completed four of the five major issues identified by the Joint Assessment team in 2020, that needed to be addressed before FLEGT licensing could occur.
The one area of disappointment that still needs resolving is the increase in the number of Special Permits for logging issued by the Forestry Commission. EcoCare has sued the Forestry Commission in an attempt to get a declaration from the High Court that the continuing issuance of Special Permits (or administrative and / or ministerial ones) is unconstitutional and should be declared null and void. In addition, the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources has written to the Forestry Commission to stop the issuance of Special Permits.
But while Ghana has made real advances with the VPA, the EU’s commitment has wavered. Specifically it has failed to create awareness of FLEGT licenses among Member States; created unhealthy tensions between FLEGT-licensed and certified timber; reneged on its promise to create a ‘green lane’ for FLEGT-licensed timber; failed to appreciate the fact that legality is the basis for enforcing sustainability; and also abandoned the contents of the negotiated and agreed legality definition on timber rights.
Despite these misgivings, the great progress in implementing the VPA – which is the fruits of the work of a wide range of stakeholders, all united in the aim protecting Ghana’s remaining forests - holds key lessons for the EU as its Regulation on deforestation draws ever closer.