The third and final general meeting of the year for Forest Watch Ghana was held from the 25th to the 28th of October, 2016 in Larteh in the Eastern Region. The main purpose of this meeting was to bring together members of the coalition to deliberate over the current state of the forest sector, natural resources and to develop collective advocacy responses to the challenges identified.
That meeting was well attended. Present were organisations such as the Accelerated Rural Development Organization (ARDO), Green Globe Ghana, Rural Environmental Care Association, Devascom Foundation, Tropenbos Ghana, Civic Response and a host of others. Most of these participants could be called experts in the Forest sector due to their wealth of experience, knowledge and their contributions to the discussions. The Development Institute which is an active member of this coalition participated in this meeting.
Forest Watch Ghana (FWG) is the national campaign vehicle of over forty (40) Civil Society Organizations and individuals based in different parts of the country committed to the rights of poor forest users - It was officially launched in February, 2004. Since its creation, Forest Watch Ghana has actively advocated policy reform in the forestry sector in Ghana. The Coalition has grown to be a cohesive coalition which has consistently campaigned for fairness in accessing forest resources, equitable benefits sharing and democratic citizens participation in decision making on forests.
Unlike the other FWG general meetings, this one had no pre-determined agenda. Participants collectively developed the agenda to drive the meeting. This was to ensure that there was ample opportunity for members to bring issues they considered important and needed urgent attention.
As usual, the members recapped the issues from the previous meeting and gave updates on what each member was doing. The rest of the day’s discussions centered on the illegal activities that are currently being carried out in the forest sector and how the communities are being affected.
Apparently illegal logging and mining is on the rise in forest reserves and companies and individuals are becoming bolder everyday probably because they have some level of support from “above”. Reference was made to some forest reserves including Upper Wassa, Fure and Subiri, all in the Western Region. Communities close to the Upper Wassa Forest reserve now live in fear because some Chinese illegal miners have taken over a portion of the reserve and are being guarded by well-armed and heavily-built men. These men intimidate and prevent access of local farmers to their farms through their operation area. The coalition agreed to use different campaign tactics to address this including community mobilization, press conferences and press field visits, petitions and international campaigning to respond to these challenges.
Illegal logging and its rise in some areas in Goaso was also discussed. It was clear from the analysis that the Forestry Commission managing these areas are hamstringed due to “orders from above”. The invocation of curses by illegal loggers and their threats to harm them also doesn’t inspire in them the confidence they need to work. Some proposed solutions discussed at the meeting included the use of international media to attract international support – communities could go on demonstrations with international media backing and also, writing a petition to the president to restore order considering his position as the co-chair of the SDG Advocacy Group.
The sustenance of every organization depends on its organizational development tools. As part of the meeting, more than half of the second day was dedicated to organizational development training for the FWG members to build their capacity in sustainable organizational management. It was facilitated by Mr. Zakaria Yakubu from Care International, Ghana.Some of the issues discussed included the key elements for an organization simplified as to be, to do and to relate. To make the training more practical, participants were given simple exercises to complete and share for better understanding. At the end of the session, participants had a better understanding of their roles as individuals as well as that of the systems for the governance of their various institutions.
The last two days, of the meeting was opened to other non-FWG members. The main purpose was to bring together all members to share their views on issues related to the forest sector. The context for discussions was on how to take political leaders on. A greater part of the discussion still centered on illegal mining, illegal logging and the way forward. The privatization of ECG and some of the unfavourable terms in the contract also took centre stage. The ECG discussion was based on a portion of Article 7 of the contract, 7.1, part of which stated that, “The Parties understand that this compact and the PIA, upon entry into force, will prevail over the domestic laws of Ghana” implying that the laws of Ghana would become powerless so far as ECG is concerned, putting the entire country at risk. One other issue discussed was the negative effects of coal power generation which the government was considering and one solution that came up was to form partnerships with companies that produce alternative sources of power to advocate against it. Some other issues discussed were the SDGs and the Civil Society Platform on SDGs and portions of the manifestoes of the two main political parties in Ghana that focused on the forest sector.
The final activity was planning for 2017; the coalition had to come to an agreement on focal areas for 2017 and some strategies. Some suggestions that came up were: illegal mining in forest reserves, privatization of ECG, illegal logging and wood fuel amongst others. One strategy that was agreed upon was international networking for effective advocacy.
The meeting ended on a very good note; this was because only relevant issues were discussed and participants were actively involved, ready to share their views. The coalition looks forward to an “action-packed” 2017.