Guest blog by Jemima Opare-Henaku, Communication, Civic Response
RFUK’s Ghanaian partner Civic Response has just completed a two-month radio sensitization campaign across the country on community based Real Time Monitoring (RTM) and raising forest fringe communities’ awareness about the role they can play in forest management and monitoring.
Although some progress has been made on forest governance in Ghana, there is still the need for robust monitoring of forest activities as illegal logging and other forest crimes are still pervasive. Current efforts to improve forest management have included development of the Ghana Wood Tracking System (GWTS) under the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Union, the Ghana Timber Transparency Portal on the GWTS, and legislative reforms to enhance forest law enforcement, transparency and accountability.
One of the most important issues on the ground is timber companies’ compliance with Social Responsibility Agreements (SRA). SRA is a scheme through which timber companies commit a portion of their financial resources (5% of stumpage fees) to communities within a 5 kilometre radius of their logging operations towards provision of social amenities. Timber companies are also supposed to negotiate with farmers on an amount to be paid for crops destroyed on their farms due to logging activities. However, logging companies often fail to fulfil their social responsibilities, or properly compensate farmers for crops destroyed. Logs are also often transported outside of the legally permitted timeframe during night time hours and this can endanger the lives of community members who are going about their evening activities. Additionally, over the last two decades, illegal mining in forest reserves has escalated, resulting in significant forest loss which is accelerating climate change and its effects on communities who have noticed changes in rainfall patterns, and lower crop yields.
Many of these illegalities occur on the blind side of the Forestry Commission, hence the need for civil society organisations’ and communities’ involvement in forest monitoring. To support these forest monitoring efforts, Civic Response, in collaboration with Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK), is implementing the project “Embedding community real time monitoring to sustain livelihoods and forests in Central and West Africa.” The ultimate goal of the initiative is to improve forest governance through more effective participation of forest communities and civil society, thereby improving rights and livelihoods for forest peoples and promoting stronger environmental sustainability.
This project uses the Forestlink technology developed by RFUK, which comprises a mobile application (Collectaur) for collecting information, and a platform (Monitaur) for receiving information. Collectaur enables trained community observers to send real-time alerts of forest infractions via SMS or satellite connection including a brief description of the illegality, GPS location, videos and photos.
The radio sensitization exercise aimed to create community awareness about their legal rights and the role of ForestLink in monitoring and protecting their local forests.
The campaign, which lasted eight weeks, included seven radio stations in seven districts across the country: Uniik FM (Sefwi Wiawso), Edubiaseman FM (New Edubiase), Kings Radio (Konongo), Royal FM (Asankragwa), AS Radio (Enchi), Nsoromma FM (Dormaa) and Ofie FM (Oda). Issues explored were the current state of Ghana’s forests, causes and effects of forest destruction, forest laws, social responsibility agreements and compensation, community based real time forest monitoring and why forest ‘fringe’ communities should be interested in ForestLink RTM.
Listeners expressed great enthusiasm about the exercise that enlightened them on issues they were otherwise unaware of:
“I commend Civic Response for this awareness creation. Because of this, I now know that forests belong to communities. For this reason, forest fringe communities must be interested in its management. If the forest is destroyed we will suffer the consequences. So I call on forest fringe community members to help monitor the forest for our own good,” Kingsley, a listener from Diaba in Dormaa District said during the phone-in segment of one of the sections on Nsoromma FM.
Similarly, officials of the Forestry Services Division (FSD) of the Forestry Commission at the district levels expressed a keen interest and support for the programme. Nana Poku Bosompem, the FSD district manager from Sefwi Wiawso, noted that the sensitisation campaign complemented their efforts and helped keep checks and balances on the Forestry Commission.
“Civil society organisations are very important to us. They are seen as partners in the protection of the forests,” he said. “They are seen as a pressure force who monitor the activities of the Forestry Commission. They can easily take us on if we fail to do our work diligently.”
Nana Bosompem, the FSD district manager from Sefwi Wiawso, personally contributed to the exercise by being in the studio to answer callers’ questions.
The Embedding community real time monitoring to sustain livelihoods and forests in Central and West Africa project and this radio sensitization campaign is being implemented with funding from UKAID.