Ghana’s FLEGT VPA progress impresses
13th January 2017

Ghana’s FLEGT VPA progress impresses

TTF Head of Policy & Sustainability, Mike Worrell

This feature by TTF Head of Policy and Sustainability Mike Worrell originally appeared on the Timber Trades Journal, August issue.

“In April I visited Ghana to see the electronic wood tracking system being developed as part of its EU Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement (FLEGT VPA) programme. I followed the process from forest to finish product and, through meetings with the Forestry Commission (FC), the EU delegation and stakeholder groups, from NGOs, to businesses and trade associations, I gained exposure to the entire system that will ultimately underpin Ghanaian FLEGT licensing.

I was immediately taken aback by the size and complexity of reforms undertaken and saw why delays have occurred delivering FLEGT licenses to market. These delays are a shame, as false expectations raised by deadlines being set and missed, have undermined confidence.

What Ghana has done is transform a paper-based system into an electronic one. Their entire cartography process is now digitalised and FC staff uploads information on everything, from tree species to log volumes, into a system undertaking real-time reconciliation of information throughout the supply chain. The FC has created a ‘Timber Validation Department’ to monitor and audit other departments, and contracted and independent auditor to ensure system credibility. Ghanaian NGOs are also testing systems and procedures. The VPA has transformed the entire forestry sector and the industry is impatiently waiting for the licensing ‘go’ button to be pressed.

I came away buoyed from the experience, however with some questions. If the timber trade is expected to embrace FLEGT licenses as legality, it is incredibly important to give a trader the ability to make informed purchases. After all, due diligence has become an ingrained process and many ask “how can a country, which I as an operator see as a non-negligible risk today, be negligible tomorrow, just because a VPA is in place?”

The answer to that becomes clearer when the systems and process behind a FLEGT license are understood. To date, however, the efforts made to communicate, not just to form a Ghanaian perspective but the entire VPA process have been piecemeal when they need to enthuse and spark market interest. After all, the real incentive to the country is a demand market ready willing to trade and increase that trade. So the substantial and transformative amount of work that has been undertaken on the ground in VPA countries needs to be widely broadcast.

In Ghana I met staff who was very proud to show off the system and have me interrogate it. It’s an achievement difficult to do justice to in this short space. It’s now time for the private sector to engage. From what I witnessed, successful implementation of the FLEGT VPA, hopefully over the next year or so, will now be down to demand an that requires proactive demand market engagement.

Ghana still needs some legislative reforms to see it over the FLEGT VPA line, notably around conversion of old leased. But civil society and the private sector are seeking solutions and it should be the final hurdle. As with any system, there will be teething problems, but the strong commitment from all sides to ensure it functions correctly, means we’ll see licensed products from Ghana much sooner, rather than later.”

Mike Worrell
TTF head of Policy and Sustainability