Saturday, 22 July 2017

Leading CSO restructured to become forestry sector think tank

By Ama KUDOM-AGYEMANG
OVER the years, civil society organisations (CSOs) have been working to establish themselves as a valuable instrument in the democratisation and development processes in developing nations such as Ghana.

Through campaigns, public lectures, debates and dialogues, street protests and demonstrations, CSOs have helped to streamline the national development agenda, placing in perspective societal needs, and assisting the evolvement and implementation of sound policies, programmes and projects.
In Ghana, CSOs have devoted their energies to improving the various sectors such as water and sanitation, natural resources management, agriculture, education, and health.
Their work entails empowering the vulnerable in society, especially women, children and rural communities, advocating equitable access to resources, provision of safe and affordable water, and promoting sound maternal and child health, among other things.
Like all good societal entities, CSOs also make time to pause and reflect on their activities, progress and impacts in order to re-strategise and re-position themselves for more effective delivery.
In the light of this, Tropenbos International (TBI) Ghana has been evolved into Tropenbos Ghana (TBG) with a vision to become “a leading organisation that influences forest policy and practice for enhanced livelihoods and sustainable development,” in the country.
So, the former Netherlands-initiated and affiliated organisation, is now positioned as a legally autonomous organisation, poised to function “as a legal Think Tank in the forestry sector” both locally and internationally within the next ten years.
Accordingly, TBG will be pursuing strategic objectives, including identifying emerging themes and cross-cutting issues in forestry for policy analysis and advocacy; and creating networks for strategic partnerships and collaboration in research, advocacy and capacity building.
These are contained in TBG’s 10-Year Strategic Plan that was launched by the Deputy Minister of Lands and Forestry, Benito Owusu Bioat, a ceremony in Accra last Wednesday, the 31st of May, 2017.
He welcomed the on-going reform process of TBG to enable it impact positively on the forestry and the environment sectors in the years to come.
Mr. Bio said this was a crucial development in view of the major challenge facing Ghana’s forestry sector: “…how to restore degraded forest lands to benefit people and the environment, and make forestry a more competitive land-use”.
Mr. Bio stressed that government was not only interested in forest benefits, but also greatly committed to its sustainable management and has therefore come up with various initiatives.
He mentioned the National Plantation Development Programme, the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade/Voluntary Partnership Agreement (FLEGT/VPA) and the Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+), being pursued by the Ministry as some of the initiatives, “meant to strengthen our arms in dealing with deforestation and forest degradation.”
The Deputy Minister acknowledged the immense contribution and support of donor partners like the Royal Netherlands Embassy and the Dutch government for funding forestry sector projects and especially for supporting Tropenbos activities in Ghana.
He was certain that government’s commitment to forest restoration and sustainable forest management coupled with the rich experiences and knowledge of TBG, will contribute to turn things around in the sector.
The Board of the TBG were also introduced and inducted into office by Nana Tawiah Okyere of Taylor Crabbe, an environmental legal consortium.
The seven member board members are: Professor Alfred Oteng-Yeboah of the University of Ghana, Legon; Professor Victor Agyeman, Director-General of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR); AkwasiAgyeiYeboah, a Private Plantation Developer and former Deputy Minister of Lands and Natural Resources; and Mrs. Hannah Owusu-Koranteng, Associate Executive Director of WACAM.
The others are: Mrs. Juliana Asante Dartey of a ASNAP; Raphael Yeboah, a Professional Forester and Legal Practitioner; and Musa Abu-Juam, Technical Director in-charge of Forestry at the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources.
On behalf of the Board members, Prof. Oteng-Yebaoh, who is the Chairman, expressed his gratitude for their election to steer the affairs of the new TBG. He described it as “a heavy responsibility … as it marks a new beginning for the group that is still re-engineering itself.”
Prof. Oteng-Yeboah pledged that they will work alongside the 17 goals of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are guiding the global development agenda for the next 50 years. He said in discharging their duties, “we will depend on what is available, look back to the past for reference and formulate solutions to address tomorrow’s problems.”
For his part the Executive Director of TBG, Kwabena Nketiah said in this new posture, his organisation will have to adapt and remain relevant in the advent of localized non-profit organisation as an independent entity regarding governance, funding and operations.
But the TBG will not be completely severed from its mother organisation. Mr. Nketiah said it will still share in the vision and branding of TBI.
As part of the ceremony, presentations were made on the topics: “Civil Society as Partner in Development,” and “Governance Challenges in the Natural Resources and Environment Sectors”.
Delivering on the first topic, the Representative of The Royal Netherlands Embassy, Fred Smiet commended the current on-going media campaign on galamsey or illegal mining as a very good example of the role of civil society. He explained the processes as “many organisations gathered evidence of environmental destruction and damage, media published and continue to do so until present day.”
Mr. Smiet noted that “for years government did not act decisively. Now after months of a sustained campaign in the media, government feels compelled to act… members of Parliament, traditional leaders, Ministers, the President, have all swung into action.”
He stressed the need for strategic partnership in the CSOs approach to issues, and that his “government has challenged CSOs to work together in strategic partnership to lobby more effectively.”
This is because “a combination of civil society partners is often more effective, since it combines different skills and has a more powerful voice.”
Touching on TBG, Mr. Smiet said it is a member of a Strategic Partnership known as the “Green Livelihood Alliance.”
This partnership seeks to lobby, advocate, dialogue and dissent on the values of two forest landscapes in Ghana namely: The Atewa Forest Landscape and the Densu Delta.
He said together, the partnership will present a powerful voice that cannot be ignored on issues that pertain to the livelihoods of farmers and fishermen who live and depend on these landscapes.
The second presentation and keynote address was delivered by Clement Kojo Akapame of GIMPA’s Law Faculty and an Associate of ClientEarth, a group of Environmental lawyers.
He highlighted the disorderliness within legal regime of the natural resources sector, saying “the current legal framework … is a perilous quagmire of constitutional obligations fleshed out through substantive and procedural provisions in various Acts of Parliament such as the Forest Act dating back to 1927 and most recently the Timber Resources Management Legality Regulation of 2012.”
Mr. Akapame stated: “The single legislation that grants power to the President to create forest reserves is a 90-year old legislation.”
He advocated a cross-jurisdictional approach to the management of the nation’s natural resources, calling for reshuffling of the sector’s governing processes towards a new governance approach based on the principles of integration, coordination, transparency, inclusiveness, fairness, and legitimacy.
The Learned Professor was emphatic in demanding a new course for the sector. “The charting of a new course in the management of natural resources, where we will de-balkanise institutions and processes, break down silos in our policy and law making process...”