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March 23rd, 2021
Energy • Justice • Innovation

Forest Investment Program: High Forest Zone, Ghana

Ghana’s Forest Investment Program was initiated by the Climate Investment Funds as part of a global program to address the trend of deforestation and forest degradation, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve community livelihoods.

The project took place in Ghana’s High Forest Zone and was coordinated by Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency and Forestry Commission. Local community leaders took a leading role in public engagement and were responsible for creating awareness and acceptance for the program, facilitating dialogue, and building consensus for rules around its implementation.

Through the project, farmers have committed to renewed reforestation efforts, and local communities have been given greater access and control of the use of natural resources through the establishment of five Community Resource Management Areas in the region.

Background and Context

Ghana’s economy relies heavily on natural resources: over 70 percent of the country’s population depends directly on natural resources for food, water, and energy. Almost half of the population lives in rural areas, and two-thirds of rural livelihoods rely on forest-related activities. Agriculture, forestry, and agroforestry account for more than 50 percent of land use and employ about 60 percent of the population, including 53 percent of women. However between 2000-2005, Ghana annually lost about 4 million hectares of forests1.

In this context, Ghana’s Forest Investment Program (FIP) was developed as part of a targeted program led by the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) aimed at addressing the loss of forests around the globe, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and improving the livelihood of people and communities in affected areas. The CIF is a multilateral climate fund that provides financing to developing countries for climate-resilient and low-carbon development. Its programs are implemented by five multilateral development banks, namely African Development Bank (AfDB), Asian Development Bank (ADB), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and World Bank Group (WBG).2 Ghana was one of eight countries selected to pilot the FIP in 2010, with funding approved by CIF in 2012.3

The Initiative

The FIP was delivered through a collaborative effort between the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Forestry Commission of Ghana, with oversight entrusted to the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources. The Ghanian government chose to focus the investment in the High Forest Zone (HFZ) in the Western and Brong-Ahafo region of Ghana; a forestry region that has the highest carbon stocks in the country, alongside high rates of deforestation through agricultural expansion (particularly cocoa farming). The associated costs of this deforestation is estimated to be as high as 10 percent of the Ghanaian GDP.4 

The Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources had identified the lack of inclusivity in management of natural resources, and the consequent lack of ownership, as the underlying factors driving deforestation and forest degradation.5 The EPA and the Ghana Forestry Commission worked alongside community leaders in the HFZ to co-lead processes of public engagement. They did this through meetings with community members and a deliberative Citizen Forum process, which provided a platform for the community to share their views on the FIP and build consensus around the program’s implementation.6 

The main objectives of the FIP, which is still ongoing, are: 

  • To make the community aware of the dangers associated with the depletion of the HFZ,

  • Identify ways to reduce GHG emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, 

  • Create by-laws to protect biodiversity and reduce poverty, and

Outline ways to contribute to sustainable livelihoods through participatory planning.7

How was the need for forest conservation presented and communicated?

Before the FIP

To increase public attention around the FIP, local community radio announcements were made for two weeks on local stations. In addition, community leaders (chiefs, queen mothers and assembly members who operate as a linkage between government and the community) regularly met with community members to raise awareness around the FIP community meetings and the importance of discussing forest conservation and the future of community livelihoods.8 

During the FIP

The process of recruitment and selection of participants for the deliberative Citizen Forum was organically built up over the course of two community meetings. These meetings were the primary channels through which communication around the objectives of the FIP could be shared with the community and community leaders.

The first of such meetings was set up between the community leaders, community members and project organisers (such as EPA staff and members of the Forestry Commission). The main purpose of this meeting was to discuss the broad objectives of the FIP and additional ways to engage the wider community in the debate around forest conservation. They also provided avenues for the project organisers to understand and clarify the role of trusted community leaders in the communication process.9

The second meeting didn’t involve the FIP organisers, and was led entirely by the community leaders themselves. The community leaders alongside the leaders of youth groups met with farmers who are key stakeholders invested in and partly responsible for the increasing deforestation rates in the district.10 The objective of these meetings was for the community leaders to explain the cause and purpose of the FIP, and push for the groups’ involvement in the Citizen Forum process. This meeting was a critical step in the run-up to the larger community engagement process, as farmers in the community were initially sceptical of the project and feared that the government’s intention was to deprive them of their source of livelihood.11 The intent behind having community leaders drive forward the conversation on the FIP, was to build trust and engagement around the process, and to encourage wider participation in the Citizen Forum. 

Alongside the meetings, postings about the Citizen Forum were distributed at community information centres by community leaders and youth leaders, where those interested were able to sign up to participate. Participation was open to everyone, and community members were also invited through local radio announcements and the use of the gong-gong. The gong-gong is the traditional name of a gong-like instrument, which when struck, makes a resonant sound. It is used to call for community members’ attention or announce important events and community meetings.12 In this case, the gong-gong was used in several locations within the community to remind members to attend the Citizen Forum process.13 The objective was to ensure as many community members as possible were aware of the FIP engagement process, and how they could participate. They were also made aware that food, drinks and a small stipend would be made available to compensate them for their time.14

After the FIP 

The FIP is still ongoing. The outcomes of the initial community engagement meetings were published and broadcast through the media and in other public forums. This was to ensure that all community members were kept informed of the consensus building process and encouraged to participate in future stages.

What was the extent and nature of citizen collaboration?

The Citizen Forum session lasted for a period of about five hours and is reported to have been well attended.15 There is limited information on the number of attendees, and details on who did and did not attend. The focus of the Citizen Forum session was to discuss the livelihoods connected to the HFZ and the rampant deforestation in the area, voice opinions, concerns and challenges among the community, and ultimately build consensus on the measures to be put in place on forest management practices.

Government staff from EPA and the Forestry Commission facilitated the meeting, ensuring everyone was heard. In order to achieve this, some principles were established to facilitate smooth and respectful discussion. This included:

  • All participants have equal time and room to ask and answer questions

  • In order to speak, hands need to be raised

  • All views on the issue are seen as equal

  • While group discussions were ongoing, individual conversations were not allowed16

The type of interactions between participants included dialogue, discussion and deliberation as well as structured Q&A.17 The main focus of discussions was around clarifying the economic benefits of new forest management practices, in addition to their benefits to the ecosystem.18,19 Community leaders were heavily involved in consensus building around the devolution of natural resources management. Insights and Outcomes were communicated in the local language through traditional media, public meetings and a report.20

What was the level of action addressed by the public engagement?

Public engagement was facilitated at community-level to build collective buy-in on sustainable forestry practices across local communities in the HFZ. The objective of public engagement in the FIP was two-fold - Firstly, to raise awareness on the importance of natural resource management in the HFZ, for both livelihood sustenance and environmental reasons.21 Secondly, to build buy-in and a sense of ownership within communities on the outcomes of the deliberation process and way forward on forest management and conservation.22 However, it is important to note that the outcomes of the community deliberation session do not necessarily feed directly into policy, although recommendations from the session are shared with the EPA for consideration.23

The Public Impact

The following are the reported impacts of the FIP, and the deliberative Citizen Forum process:

  • Farmers have greater awareness of how their actions can put pressure on the HFZ and have been able to identify measures and solutions among themselves to tackle this collaboratively. 

  • Five Community Resource Management Areas (CREMA) have been established, which link protected areas and forest reserves. CREMAs allow communities greater access and control of the use of natural resources in their area.24

  • A ‘timber tending toll’ was set up, which provides farmers with compensation from Timber Companies for naturally-growing trees on their farms prior to harvest. This, along with the development of a registration system for trees, incentivises the protection and maintenance of naturally-growing trees on farms.25 

By-laws have been drafted and agreed, with the objective of preserving the forest and wildlife of the region.26

Further Considerations and Lessons from this Case

From CPI’s extensive work on public engagement, we have found three important drivers to public impact that are relevant to discuss when designing public engagement processes around climate change: Enabling adaptability and learning; Designing for Inclusion; and Embracing Complexity. We discuss the relevance of each to the case study below:

Enabling Adaptability and Learning

The public engagement processes around the FIP were tightly framed and designed by the Ghana EPA and Forestry Commission. Traditionally, a tightly framed process includes bringing to community engagement sessions a clear idea of policy interventions to be considered, and enabling community discussion and conversation to identify the challenges and barriers. This allows the facilitating team to make the necessary recommendations on how those policy interventions can be designed better, based on the feedback of communities. Such tightly framed public engagement sessions provide the governing department with a clear idea of actionable next steps. However, it can steer the conversation away from communities’ socio-cultural considerations and capacities for shifting behaviour. More loosely-framed discussions, while not offering easily actionable next steps, can enable more nuanced discussions on community priorities, values, skills and capacity; all factors which influence the uptake and success of policy measures. Middle ground in such contexts can be achieved, to some extent, by empowering community leaders and groups to use their knowledge of the context to define and develop the parameters of discussion in public engagement processes. However, it would be important to also ensure inequalities and informal hierarchies within the local community are not further reinforced, and efforts are made to be inclusive of the different sub-groups within the community. 

Ultimately there is insufficient public information to confirm the level of autonomy the community leaders and other local groups were given in directing the public engagement process in the Ghana FIP. However, in many public engagement cases that involve close engagement with community leaders, their autonomy is traditionally a necessary precondition to their participation and involvement.

Designing for Inclusion 

The Ghana EPA and Ghana Forestry Commission recognised that public engagement processes with communities living in the HFZ should be co-implemented with trusted community messengers, as they have a greater understanding of the local context, community dynamics, concerns, and engagement gaps. Therefore, the community leaders were empowered to take on the primary role in developing awareness and creating dialogue around the core features of the FIP. Youth groups also engaged with farmers (the stakeholders most affected by FIP) to discuss the initiative. In this way, communities themselves took an active role in spreading the message, raising awareness and building discussion.27,28 This led to high rates of community participation in the Citizen Forum process, and fostered greater acceptance for the identified policy measures. 

However, while efforts were actively made to raise awareness and invite participation, there is less clarity on whether a concerted effort was made to understand a) who did not/ were not able participate in the community meetings or the Citizen Forum process b) why they were unable to or chose not to do so and c) what additional efforts would make the process more inclusive for these groups. In many cases, those who choose to participate in public engagement processes are those who already have clear ideas on the issue being discussed; and/or have confidence in their individual skill-set, knowledge and expertise to engage; and/or don’t have caring or work-related responsibility at the time of the engagement processes. When the associated exclusions inherent in the design of public engagement processes that allow for ‘self-selection’ aren’t taken into account, the process is less likely to be truly inclusive, and there is limited public information available on how the Ghana FIP tackled potential selection and coverage bias.

On the point of facilitation of the Citizen Forum process, active efforts were made to facilitate conversations in the Citizen Forum in an inclusive way (i.e. each participant had equal time to ask and answer questions, all views were considered equally and individuals were asked to raise their hands so as not to speak over one another). However, details around the consensus-building process and final voting remain limited. Voting processes, unless facilitated carefully, can favour majoritarianism and can replicate internal politics of the region and of community groups, rather than being truly inclusive. Therefore, where possible, public engagement processes should make active efforts to counter this in favour of prioritising inclusion.

Embracing Complexity

Communities in the HFZ depend on the forest for their livelihoods, and were both an actor in and victim of environmental degradation and deforestation. The communities were also wary of government policies and top-down decision-making processes.29 In this context, working with local community leaders and other trusted community groups, the Ghana EPA and Ghana Forestry Commission brought together messaging around forest conservation alongside its interdependencies with sustaining livelihoods, economic gain, and environmental resilience. These discussions linked the importance of urgent behaviour change with both short-term economic gains and long-term environmental and livelihood-related outcomes, building an effective way to discuss a complex issue area with community members. Trusted relationships with messengers, and avenues for sustained long-term community deliberation around complex challenges, in particular, are vital to practices being adapted to the needs and requirements of changing times and contexts, and for the overall programme to remain successful. In this case, as an on-going initiative, the Ghana FIP provides an interesting opportunity and example to gather lessons around how public engagement around forest conservation can be sustained and supported with the local communities of the HFZ region in the long-term.

Bibliography

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