As part of the Green Livelihoods Alliance (GLA) Project being implemented by Friends of the Earth Ghana in partnership with Tropenbos Ghana and A Rocha Ghana, a capacity building workshop was held for civil society organizations on Ghana’s mining and forestry laws.

The Green Livelihoods Alliance, kindly funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, is concerned with building a strong civil society for inclusive and sustainable development in forested landscapes of Ghana and eight other countries across the world.

The workshop was particularly timely given the determination of the Ghana government to mine bauxite in some of the country’s protected forest reserves despite its extremely damaging consequences, and the ongoing discussions around reforming tree tenure and benefit sharing to ensure communities’ rights are upheld.

Friends of the Earth Ghana is also keen to highlight the importance not only of legal compliance but also that logging and mining must be environmentally and socially responsible. Ghana’s laws do not always account for sustainability criteria.

The high rate of logging in Ghana and the constant private sector demands for mining concessions in protected forests are very worrying trends, especially for communities relying on the forests for their basic needs and livelihoods.

Friends of the Earth Ghana recognises that communities threatened by logging or mining, together with the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) that defend community and environmental rights, are crucial for monitoring logging and mining companies to ensure they do not step beyond the bounds of Ghana’s laws. As such, building their knowledge of Ghana’s laws was the focus of the workshop.

Nana Tawiah Okyir, a resource person from the Taylor Crabbe Initiative that supported the workshop with their expertise in Ghana’s wildlife and natural resource laws, identified the ‘consideration stage’ in the law-making process as the critical stage for civil society.

This is when Parliament makes changes to draft bills, so civil society and communities can make inputs and comments or request an MP to introduce an amendment for consideration. Thus this is when communities and civil society can make their views known and lobby for change.

The policies and laws regulating Ghana’s natural resources were highlighted. It is clear that these are gradually – but all too slowly – moving in the right direction, largely due to community and civil society demands. While the 1948 Forest and Wildlife Policy, for example, focused only on exploiting Ghana’s natural resources, the revised 2012 Policy included concern for conservation of wildlife beyond only exploitation.

Ghana’s 1974 Forest Protection Act (N.R.D.C. 243) is useful in its identification of forest offences in Ghana, and fortunately the recent Timber Resource Management and Legality Licensing Regulations 2017 (L.I. 2254) has taken this a step further: besides consolidating the many previous legal instruments, it more importantly introduces new areas that communities and civil society have been demanding, such as small scale timber rights; access to information from the Forestry Commission; new permit systems and licences; and benefit sharing regimes including tree tenure and user rights.

Dennis Martey of Taylor Crabbe focused on Ghana’s minerals and mining law and how this sits within Ghana’s Constitution. As with timber exploitation in Ghana’s forests, the work of civil society is important in closely monitoring the activities of mining companies to determine whether their actions are consistent with Ghana’s laws.

Important for civil society to know is that they can find out the location of mineral rights and details of the rights holders in the register of mineral rights maintained by the Minerals Commission. Lawyer Martey however identified the need for reform of the existing legal system to ensure a mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) prior to the award of permits instead of after, as is currently the case. This is an issue that civil society will take up.

The workshop was wrapped up by Obed Owusu-Addai of Ecocare Ghana who led the participants in developing strategies to maintain momentum. The actions included provision of simplified information and trialing different formats for educational materials, and creating databases of key information useful for future advocacy work.

Friends of the Earth Ghana, which has been a leader in supporting communities to monitor timber companies for legal compliance, encouraged participants to further educate the communities and civil society groups they work with to ensure they have the necessary capacity to monitor mining and logging operations in their localities.

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