The Ghana-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement was preceded by a period of deep internal reflections of the weakness and maladjustment in the Ghana forestry sector control systems that tend to frustrate efforts to attain the objective of sustainable forest management. Immediate concerns in the sector included how to stem the tide of illegal logging activities so as to contain timber harvesting within the ecologically determined annual allowable offtake. Another troubling concern was the shift in preference in the EU market for wood and wood products form legal and certified sources and how Ghana can maintain its market share of the relatively lucrative EU timber market in the phase of emerging changes.
As a response to the prevailing challenges in the forestry sector and to save what is left of its tropical forest cover as well as counter the unsustainable timber harvesting, Ghana embarked on a number of policy, legislative and institutional initiatives and reforms. Since the formulation of the new forest and wildlife policy in 1994, Ghana has had to tighten its actions in respect to forest law compliance (Bamfo 2005). Log exports were suspended since 1995 and there was a prohibition of chainsaw logging since 1998. The forest law enforcement began as a bigger issue on the forest policy agenda of Ghana, based on the 1996-2020 Forest Sector Development Master Plan, and the Validation of Legal Timber Programme (VLTP), established in 2007.
The Validation of Timber Program(VLTP) became a major initiative purposed to improve controls in the forestry management and regulatory system. It also aimed at ensuring that Ghana maintains access to the EU export timber market through the establishment of a licensing scheme. During the period, a number of studies, briefing papers and notes were the conducted to sensitize and inform the populace about the purpose, nature and scope of forest control challenges and how the VLTP is to be designed to tackle the issues. The specific issues that were identified as gaps within the Ghana forest control system and which informed the design of the VLTP included:
• Lack of definition of legal timber
• Absence of independent verification
• Absence of secure chain of custody system
• Absence of independent forest monitoring
• Issue of license
Even though the VLTP exhibited the core traits of the Legality Assurance System under the VPA, its design was however conceived as purely technical mechanism without due consideration to the social and political nature of the forestry sector challenges it was being built to address. A study undertaken by IIED in 2008 titled ‘Assessment of the potential impacts in Ghana of a VPA with the EC on forest governance’ described the inadequacies in the VLTP approach as a solely technical design without a transition into a good forest governance regime through the accompanied requisite sector reforms. The recommendation of the IIED studies strongly supported the VPA as the best design option for dealing with the illegalities in the sector whilst securing Ghana’s share of the EU export market.
VPA Negotiation Process
In May 2005, through a multi-stakeholder consultation process, Ghana started the preparation for the FLEGT VPA negotiation process. After four official VPA negotiation sessions, held from March 2006 to July 2008, in September 2008 Ghana became the first country to conclude the VPA with the EU. Ghana’s VPA outlines the areas and gaps in the forest policy and forest law concerns to be addressed in the first 2-5 years of the VPA implementation. The following five themes were established as the key VPA elements: definition of legal timber; system of verification of legality; timber tracking system; licensing system and independent monitoring of the system (VPA Ghana 2009). In addition, other issues considered as needed to be integrated into the VPA implementation are: capacity building, legal reforms and domestic market (VPA Ghana 2009/Annex 9). Development and field testing of the various components of the systems for the VPA implementation are near maturity to make Ghana ready for the issuance of timber legality licence(FLEGT) as stipulated by the Agreement.
VPA Impact Monitoring
Ghana has also developed a monitoring system to assess the impact of the VPA implementation on six key impact areas including forest condition, revenue generation, livelihoods, forest governance, forest management and timber market performance and structure. The monitoring system also includes a component to track the national multistakeholder deliberative processes that was employed to negotiate the process towards signing of the VPA and providing the political space for its implementation. The purpose for monitoring the multistakeholder deliberative process is to ensure its continuous improvement for the effective implementation of the VPA as well as enhance multistakeholder participation in forestry sector governance processes.