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Legal clarity around forest conversion as law passes in Ghana

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A regulation that aims to stop illegal deforestation in Ghana has given fresh clarity to the rules on forest conversion in the country.

In Ghana, so-called ‘salvage permits’ are given to companies who want to clear economically-valuable trees from land undergoing development like farming or mining.

In the past, large numbers of salvage permits were granted, including to harvest substantial quantities of Rosewood, an endangered tree species. The trade of this wood is banned in Ghana.

NGOs have questioned whether these trees needed salvaging to clear land for farming or mining, or whether the permits were issued for the value of the timber.

In November 2017, a new regulation was passed that clarifies the legal process for getting a salvage permit and paves the way for legal timber from forest conversion.

The new regulation clarifies the salvage permit process in three ways:

  1. Before a salvage permit is granted, the Forestry Commission must first do a field inspection. This inspection should confirm (i) the planned agricultural or mining development, (ii) the need for commercial trees to be salvaged, and (iii) the quantity of trees to be harvested.

The field inspection report aims to stop salvage permits being used to exploit timber to earn quick money, by validating the use of the land for agriculture or mining before granting approval to clear the trees.

  1. The holder of a salvage permit must negotiate an agreement with affected local communities to make sure they also share in the profits of forest conversion.

This requirement was not clear before the new regulation and is important to recognise communities’ rights, ensuring they have an interest in improved and sustainable management of forests.

  1. Lastly, salvage permits must be made publicly available as part of the new regulation’s transparency provisions. The name of the permit holder, the location, size and length of the permit and the payments required under any social responsibility agreement must be included. Access to this information is important because it helps communities and NGOs monitor and flag violations of the law.

The regulation is a big step in Ghana’s on-going process to verify and guarantee the legality of its timber, especially under the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU.

A VPA is a bi-lateral timber trade deal. Ghana’s VPA identifies salvage permits as a legal source of timber and the new regulation should help assure this.

Now, implementation and enforcement will be essential to make sure this legal clarity improves the way forests are managed.

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Caroline Granycome