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Forest governance in Ghana should function with transparency and accountability – interview with Mustapha Seidu

This interview is part of the ‘Forest Governance Unpacked’ series with key experts in forest governance. It was developed in the context of the NewGo! project which aims to provide scientific knowledge on lessons learned from initiatives related to zero deforestation, forest restoration, and sustainable forest finance. The project sets the ground for the EFI Governance Programme.

Mustapha Kaluwe Seidu works with the Nature and Development Foundation, a non-governmental not-for-profit conservation organization based in Accra Ghana. He is also a private legal practitioner with Amenuvor and Associates. Before this, he held the position as the Programme Coordinator of WWF West Africa Forest Programme Office in Ghana for several years, coordinating all projects including the then WWF Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN). Mustapha also worked with the FSC Africa Regional Office, the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan, and the Forestry Research Institute of Ghana.

Tell us a bit about who you are.

I am currently leading efforts to ensure that timber and cocoa production do not lead to deforestation of the landscape. In particular, I have  worked on ensuring that timber companies use voluntary certification schemes such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to achieve responsible forest management under the WWF GFTN project. Now, the discussion in Ghana is more of ensuring that timber companies can comply with mandatory legal requirements. In that respect, we have been leading an effort to build the capacity of all timber companies in Ghana.

To address the  the devastation caused by commodities, I was involved in the advocacy to reduce the negative impact of cocoa and the chocolate industry and wood fuel on deforestation.

Mustapha Seidu under falling tree.

What is forest governance?

Forest governance is the system of formal and informal rules, regulations, norms, and practices put in place to ensure the management and conservation of a forest estate of a country.

Why is governance needed?

Governance is needed to ensure sustainable management, equitable utilization, equitable benefit-sharing, and the maximum utilization of revenue from forest resources. Governance is needed to regulate and manage the expectations of shareholders and to ensure that forest, as a common resource, does not suffer the tragedy of the commons.

What makes governance “good”?

In the context of forests, governance is said to be “good” when there is participatory decision-making and authorities and duty-bearers are accountable for their stewardship of the forest resources. There is also transparency in the governance of the resources and equitable distribution of wealth from forest resources with the ultimate goal of achieving sustainable forest management.

How can it achieve the well-being of both the forests concerned and the communities depending upon them?

It is my considered opinion that any governance regime that does not lead to the well-being of the forests  and communities depending on the forests is not “good”. Forests are a global good for the sake of humanity even when not commoditized. However, in current economic realities, the forest is a resource for food, business, and for reducing poverty. Therefore, governance can only benefit the forests when the community benefits from the forest resource in monetary or money-equivalent terms. A good governance regime must ensure sustainable utilization or payment for the services provided by the forest resources, as well as adequate and equitable sharing of the benefits. We may also be able to bring the forest back to the landscape if the tenure of trees is assured and knowledge of the property of the trees is increased among the community.

How should governance function?

Governance should function with the effective participation of stakeholders, transparency and accountability, rule of law, and equitable benefit to shareholders.  

Who needs to be involved?

Depending on the tenure regime of the forest in question, people who need to be involved include:

  • Local communities
  • Government and quasi-governmental institutions of relevance to forest management
  • Private sector
  • Civil society organizations

Where is governance most needed?

Governance is most needed in the management of forests for the public good. This is  because many common resources such as publicly managed forests are treated as though they do not belong to anybody.  These are forest resources that are mostly poorly managed and subject to rent-seeking tendencies by the populations but subject to  many expectations of the benefits by the same populations.

What are the challenges with governance today in the light of what you said in the previous question?

The challenges with governance are the competing interests of different stakeholders, increasing corruption, mistrust among stakeholders and shareholders of the forest resources, inequitable distribution of forest resources revenue, and a continued struggle for local communities to benefit from and protect the forest.

Training, 2012.

What are the positive changes that you have seen happening in the context of forest governance?

In the context of forest governance, there has been a long and slow journey to some positive changes in Ghana. The Voluntary Partnership Agreement and the consultative, transparent requirements to its negotiation and implementation have been very instrumental in creating trust among stakeholders and ensuring their participation. Since the Voluntary Partnership Agreement, there have been more improvements in the transparency and accountability in the management of forests. Disappointingly, this improvement in governance has not translated into improving the integrity of remnant forests in Ghana.

Please provide an example of a success story/case study.

In my opinion, the most impactful legislation with far-reaching improvement in governance in Ghana has been the Voluntary Partnership Agreement. Although this was a bilateral agreement between the government of Ghana and the EU to ensure that only legal timber is exported from Ghana, the parliament of Ghana ratified the Agreement  to make it a law in the country. Its implementation has brought a new sense of enthusiasm to law enforcement as timber is electronically traced, thanks to the Ghana Wood Tracking System. Now, forest authorities in Ghana have the choice to enforce the law and it is not because illegally logged timber was not detected. The revenue collection effort of the forest commission is now seamless with the synchronization of the accounting system with the timber traceability system. The continued participation of stakeholders in processes has been unparalleled in the history of forest governance in the country. Civil society is recognized as much as the industry. The foundation legislation now requires the government to provide information to stakeholders and to publish the information  provided on its website. 

Read the other interviews of the ‘Forest Governance Unpacked’ series:

We need to align the different interests related to forests to regulate conflicts and maximise synergies – interview with Georg Winkel

Stakeholder participation in forest governance is key for sustainable forest management – interview with Eva Müller

Community participation makes for better forest governance in Ethiopia – interview with Tefera Mengistu

Curbing forest loss with and for the local communities in Uganda – interview with Rose Kobusinge

Projects in Sub-Saharan Africa provide evidence of a successful circular bioeconomy – interview with Darren Lapp

Involving and remunerating local communities to save the Amazon – Interview with Johan Wittkamper


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