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Respecting indigenous culture improves forest management in Ghana

It’s a quiet Thursday morning in Wruwru, a small village in the Akontombra District of the Western North region of Ghana. A little too quiet perhaps. No one is tending to the forest reserve, no children are playing under the trees and no community members are making use of the water from the river that flows through the forest. This is because today is a so-called ‘taboo day’. A day when the local community prays, rests and does not enter its forest.

A cultural practice that protects forests

People in this part of Ghana have observed the cultural practice for centuries, and it is a tradition that helped protect forests through the ages. But not everyone has always respected the taboo. Some timber companies entitled to log the forest adjacent to the community would come in even on these sacred days. 

Communities have reported seeing a change when Ghana started getting serious about the implementation of Social Responsibility Agreements (SRAs). These are binding contracts between timber companies and local communities. They oblige companies to sit down with communities ahead of logging activities to agree on compensation and several other aspects. This was in part driven by Ghana’s implementation of its Voluntary Partnership Agreement with the European Union. As part of the Agreement, Ghana started paying extra attention to the implementation of laws and regulations applicable to forest operations, including those focusing on SRAs. 

“The company came to us before they started logging,” says Nana Nicholas Cobbina, Chief of Wruwru and Chief Farmer. “We discussed a range of issues, such as the compensation we would get from the logging company, but also things that are of cultural significance to us: not only not entering the forest on taboo days, but also where sacred groves are, or which waterways we use for drinking and washing.” 

Community education on social responsibility agreements in Wruwru.

Source: Logs and Lumber Limited

Community education on social responsibility agreements in Wruwru.

Source: Logs and Lumber Limited

Timber companies benefit from working with communities

The people from Wruwru are not the only ones drawing benefits from the respect of their culture and rights. The company working in the area also started to see the advantage of building a positive relationship with the communities living in the areas where they operate. 

“We realised that the more we engaged with communities, the easier our work became,” says Stephen Kwame Paddy, Chain of Custody manager at Logs and Lumber Limited, one of Ghana’s biggest timber companies. “We started to understand their frustrations and their needs. With that, we could anticipate, go into the forest on a different day so as not to upset the community. And avoid certain areas. All this made our work easier.” 

The company also had to engage in some awareness raising and educational activities, to ensure that the people from Wruwru understand their rights, and that membership of the community’s SRA committee is representative. Kwame explains that “it is important that the committee that deals with matters related to the SRA is gender balanced. If you are not careful, not everybody will be involved. And those excluded will challenge the decisions or actions of the committee, which may favour only a segment of the community.”

More community engagement helps companies manage their forest areas

The benefits of the increased engagement with communities extend beyond just a good working relationship. It has also helped companies safeguard their assigned forest areas and manage them responsibly. 
 

We would sometimes find that trees had been cut illegally. But after building relationships with the nearby communities … They realised that they are benefitting from our legal logging activity too, that they are stakeholders in the care of the forest for us all.

Mr. Kwame, Chain of Custody manager at Logs and Lumber Limited. 


“When we were assigned a forest concession, upon arrival we would sometimes find that trees had been cut illegally,” says Kwame. “But after building relationships with the nearby communities, they engaged a lot more than before. They realised that they are benefitting from our legal logging activity too, that they are stakeholders in the care of the forest for us all.” 

Stephen Kwame Paddy

Stephen Kwame Paddy

Chain of Custody manager at Logs and Lumber Limited.

Source: Logs and Lumber Limited

Stephen Kwame Paddy

Chain of Custody manager at Logs and Lumber Limited.

Source: Logs and Lumber Limited

Communities benefiting from legal logging

Kwame also explains that villagers also understood who is legally entitled to come into the forest to cut the trees. “They started to call us when they saw someone illegally entering the forest – acting as watchdogs. This means that the forests can be logged sustainably, provide income for the communities, and of course we pay the applicable taxes to the Government, so it’s a win-win-win situation!”