A new study from the Center for International Forest Research (CIFOR) concludes that progress has been made towards many FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement targets in three partner countries covered; Ghana, Cameroon and Indonesia. That includes in terms of reducing illegal logging, achieving greater industry transparency and engagement of small to medium sized businesses in the political agenda.
Research for the report, Collecting Evidence of FLEGT-VPA Impacts for Improved Communication, was funded by the FAO FLEGT Programme, with the objective of assembling evidence which FLEGT ‘communicators can draw on to formulate messages targeted to needs and audiences’.
It involved assessing each countries’ performance against indicators in four ‘thematic areas’; sustainable forest management and forest conditions; relation and development of the formal and informal forest sectors; jobs and employment; governance, law enforcement and compliance.
The report authors started with a desk review to identify the relevant key indicators and from this drafted a stakeholder questionnaire. On a 12-day field mission to each of the countries, this was then distributed to ‘representative samples of key forest sector experts’, who also participated in focus group discussions to elaborate on their answers.
The report says the respondents were selected across a range of expertise, background and sector to minimise risk of bias. “Anonymity also encouraged them to fill in the questionnaire honestly and express opinions during discussions,” it states.
Using a similar approach in the three countries covered, the report maintains, allowed it to take a broader perspective across collected indicators. “This is important, because the VPA process in each country is also part of a larger process – the global effort to fight illegal logging and related trade,” it says . “Combining the findings from the three countries provides a useful tool to assess VPA impacts more globally and allows lessons to be derived for other VPA countries as well as the VPA process itself.”
Looking at its first thematic area, sustainable forest management and forest conditions, the report concludes that there had been a decrease in illegal logging rates in the three countries, with better implementation of management plans in production forests. “And the VPA has contributed positively towards this evolution,” it says.
It had also helped ensure the views of local communities and indigenous people were taken into account in forest sector decision making and that the status of women, youth and marginalized groups were given more consideration.
SME’s more acknowledged in decision-making
Under the theme relations and development of formal and informal forest sector, the report says that the VPA has contributed to SMEs not only being more acknowledged in decision making, but also ‘better able to coordinate operations through recognised associations’.
However, the business expectation that the VPA alone would help them increase exports remained largely unmet. “Further efforts are needed to manage this expectation, as it partly depends on unpredictable market conditions and partly on actions which could be supported through the VPA process itself, such as improving SMEs’ capacities to meet market demand,” says the report.
The VPA process does not seem to have improved forestry and timber sector working conditions, job availability or security. However, says the report, it has contributed to better organisation of workers and integration of legality and sustainable forest management (SFM) topics in academic and technical curricula.
Under the heading governance and law enforcement, the study concludes that the VPA process has contributed to development of more coherent legal frameworks and greater sanction enforcement. Besides greater transparency, it had resulted in greater government accountability and also strengthened influence of civil society, although respondents said the latter needed continued support.
One potential value of its findings, suggests the report, is in potentially directing future VPA resources. “If choices have to be made, one option could be to maintain support to already positive results with potential to lead to others,” it says. “For example, if government remains unresponsive on improving transparency, then a getter strategy could be to make civil society stronger.”
And its core aim, as stated in its title, was to ‘collect evidence of VPA process impacts to improve its communication. “This report is not the communication tool itself,” it concludes. “But, following it, more work is definitely warranted to extract key messages to be communicated to defined audiences.”