The European Business Council for Africa

Forests are a key pillar of sustainable development, providing priceless ecological, economic, social benefits at local, national and global level. They perform key ecosystem services, create jobs for communities, revenue for governments, and hold cultural and spiritual value.

In Ghana, the implementation of the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Union has brought a transformational change. The VPA’s aim is to improve forest governance, address illegal logging and promote trade in legal timber products. But the VPA’s impacts have gone way beyond the legality of the timber traded by Ghana.

Mainstreamed environmental protection

By decreasing the rate of illegal logging, the VPA in Ghana has also reduced the negative environmental effects of this practice that include biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions. Richard Nsenkyire is the managing director of Samartex, a Ghanaian timber company. Samartex is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (an international NGO dedicated to promoting responsible management of the world's forests) and has a history as a sustainable company. Only a few decades ago, Samartex was one of the few companies that logged trees in a way that reduced the impact on forests. This attention to environmental impact is no longer the exception.

"The VPA has lifted the standards for everyone. Certified companies are no longer islands of sustainability in the wild west of forest concessions."
- Nsenkyire

Protecting forests, supporting local communities and enhancing women’s participation

Along with measures for environmental protection, companies applying for commercial logging permits in Ghana must put forward proposals to address the social needs of the communities living in the areas of operations.

The companies must negotiate a social responsibility agreement with these communities and pay them 5% of the value of the stumpage fee of timber that is harvested. Although these agreements were enshrined in law in 2004, the VPA process showed that they were not well enforced.

“Most communities did not know their rights and responsibilities in relation to the forest,” says Doreen Asumang-Yeboah, who works on community rights at the Ghanaian NGO ‘Rights and Advocacy Initiatives Network’. “Only a handful of companies negotiated and complied with their social responsibility agreements.”

In 2017, the government adopted new regulations requiring all companies acquiring any commercial logging permits to negotiate social responsibility agreements with adjacent communities.

Following the adoption of the new legislation, in each community, a committee is set up to decide which projects should be supported by the revenue of the 5% of stumpage fee. The Ghana-EU VPA has also contributed to the empowerment of women involved in the forest-value chains.

"Now everyone is involved in the management of the forest. The process is very inclusive. Before the VPA, women were mostly neglected at the local level. But now, they are involved in the discussions."
- Asumang-Yeboah

By addressing forest management more comprehensively and contributing to the enforcement of Ghana’s national laws, the VPA is ensuring the preservation of the country’s forests, while sustainably harnessing their potential for the benefit of all.