Efforts by IUCN in Ghana to engage local communities and exchange information on key REDD+ governance issues are bearing fruit. A series of meetings and workshops at the regional and community levels have generated detailed inputs that can directly feed into Ghana’s evolving REDD+ strategy. That process is at a crucial stage. Ghana has received funds from the World Bank Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) and was accepted as one of five pilot countries for the Forest Investment Program (FIP). Now that the country is ready to start the building of its REDD+ strategy, community organisations have a crucial role to play in the identification of REDD+ activities that can be the building blocks of such a plan.
The meetings were organised as part of IUCN’s pro-poor REDD+ project in Ghana. The project supports and encourages the interests of the forest-reliant and vulnerable poor as part of the building of the national REDD+ strategies and is currently implemented in Ghana, Cameroon, Papua-Indonesia and Guatemala. Recognising the links between livelihoods and sustainable natural resource management, the project in Ghana has recently organised two regional workshops. The focus was on adequate forest governance and the building of an equitable benefit-sharing regime.
The workshops took place in April this year and brought together representatives from key stakeholder groups in the three northern regions and the forest rich western regions of Ghana. Participants learned about the REDD+ readiness process in Ghana and the way in which REDD+ might affect their livelihoods. The meetings provided local leaders with an opportunity to give constructive inputs into Ghana’s REDD+ strategy development and generated important insights into the concerns that communities have.
Communities reflected on the drastic reductions in the quality and quantity of forest cover that they observe. Participants of the workshop identified drivers of deforestation and degradation, such as unsustainable farming practices, poverty, population growth, bushfires, mining, charcoal and fuel wood production, timber extraction, chain saw operations, and hunting. Their observations of changes reflected an understanding of the role that forests play in ecological and micro-climatic conditions such as temperature, rainfall and soils, but this awareness was not matched with a clear understanding of the broader links between deforestation and climate change. It underscores the importance of education and awareness building among communities as part of the development of a REDD+ strategy in Ghana.
The consultations generated suggestions that can be direct inputs into the development of the REDD+ strategy. The following specific activities were identified: a) protection and conservation to prevent further degradation of forests and the benefits that they provide, b) reforestation through agro-forestry systems, c) the strengthening of community forest management structures such as the Community Forest Committees (CFC) and Community Resource Management Areas (CREMA) committees, d) the setting up of voluntary community-watchdog groups to curb deforestation, and e) the building of distributional mechanisms based on community experience with such arrangements.
Communities generally have clear ideas about possible frameworks that can be established for the distribution of REDD+ benefits. They prefer community-managed revolving trusts or credit funds over schemes predicated on individual payments. Grassroots organisations give priority to conservation of existing forest reserves and Globally Significant Biodiversity Areas (GSBA), which would need more effective forest law enforcement, education and a focus on ecological, social and economic benefits. They also point at the importance of community forestry, afforestation programs and agro-forestry activities.
The meetings stressed the importance for REDD+ to reinforce community level institutions such as Community Forest Committees (CFCs), District Forest Forums (DFF) and CREMAs. There were also calls to enhance community participation in conservation and sustainable management of forests. The strengthening of these grassroots institutions as part of REDD+ would require the building of governance platforms to strengthen their legitimacy and capacity to take decisions over forest management and conservation issues. It would also give communities decision making power to implement additional livelihood programmes that can help improve living standards such as fish farming, tree nurseries, snail farming and bee-keeping.
The meetings in Ghana illustrate how important a two-way flow of information is as part of multi-stakeholder consultation. Community organizations have to be informed about REDD+ and these groups can in turn provide detailed inputs into the national REDD+ strategy. Successful pro-poor REDD+ strategies will respond to the concerns and interests of forest-reliant communities and other stakeholders and build equitable REDD+ interventions that support rather than harm the rural poor.