EcoCare Ghana on the 26th April 2018 organized a meeting for selected civil society organizations in Ghana at Erata hotel East Legon, Accra. The theme for the event was “CSO DIALOGUE ON POSSIBILITY OF VPA-TYPE SYSTEM FOR COCOA SECTOR IN GHANA”. The meeting was a one day program aimed at creating a platform for civil society organizations working in the cocoa and forest sector in Ghana to discuss and craft a position on the possibility of having a cocoa VPA system similar to the agreement Ghana signed with the European Union to export only legal timber to the EU market – called the FLEGT-VPA.
Welcoming the participants to the meeting, Mr. Obed Owusu-Addai, the convener of the meeting expressed hope that the meeting would help to identify problems within the cocoa sector and how a possible cocoa VPA can address them. He also observed that this preliminary meeting was to create the opportunity for civil society to ascertain whether VPA-type approach is a viable option for the cocoa sector, especially in addressing cocoa deforestation which is gaining a lot of international attention in recent times. He was optimistic that the diversity of participants at the meeting would help provide a perfect opportunity and platform for civil society and government (COCOBOD) to share ideas and find solutions to the issues up for discussion.
Speaking at the meeting, Mr. Samuel Mawutor, Coordinator for Forest Watch Ghana who took part in a recent policy tour of Europe organized by Fern and its partners briefed participants on the outcome of the tour, especially on EU concerns over conversion for cocoa, deforestation and possible solutions in a VPA-type approach. He explained that the issue of cocoa deforestation is generating attention from EU member countries due to its contribution to “imported deforestation”. He mentioned that during engagements with the French Aid Agency (AFD), the point person had suggested that VPA-type system for the cocoa sector was being considered by the EU as part of a broader Deforestation Action Plan. He also indicated that the French had assumed the presidency of the Amsterdam Declaration and they intend to focus on actions to address cocoa deforestation. They also intend to send a delegation to Ghana and Cote D'Ivoire for an initial scoping work and it has been recommended to the delegation to meet with National NGOs in the Fores/Cocoa sector to share lessons on VPAs potential transformative impact.
Mr. Mawutor also mentioned that the EU's trade leverage has not really be harnessed in the current private-sector led efforts for responsible cocoa purchasing, hence a political role of the EU could go farther than the current conversation. This he said could have a role in the EU Deforestation Action Plan of which a scoping report was produced last year during the deforestation conference. In advance of the visit by the French delegation in May, NGOs needed to give thought to the idea of a Cocoa VPA to see how it might work or not and share this thinking with the French delegation and other potential EU members states who would be interested in pushing this agenda.
Mr. Chris Beeko, Director TVD-FC who gave the keynote presentation on the topic, “Understanding the FLEGT-VPA process and potential lessons for the cocoa sector in Ghana”, Mr. Beeko recalled the motivation/basis for Ghana’s decision to enter the VPA with the EU in the first place. He stated that Ghana needed to pay attention to the EU trade policies and to changes on the EU market that restricted access. He observed that at the time of entering the VPA with the EU, Ghana was exporting about 60% in volume and value of timber products to the EU market, hence Ghana could not have afforded to lose access to that important market. He was quick to add that market access was not the only motivation as Ghana also saw the opportunity to improve the forest regulatory regime. Speaking about the operability of the timber legality traceability which is at the heart of the VPA, Mr. Beeko observed that there is a market that will act responsibly – that will be a lever (will demand for proper documentation and legality compliance on consignments). This create an opportunity to clearly define and align in-country laws and protocols that form the basis for measuring legality compliance of products. He noted that legality definition should be based on consensus building among all stakeholders in the sector, this gives it universal acceptance and recognition. Mr. Beeko cautioned that all these efforts should be backed by enforceable legislative regime.
Mr. Beeko drew parallels between the timber and cocoa sectors, especially on the problems. He observed that just as it existed in the timber sector, cocoa production is causing forest loss, and that there is no provision in the legislative framework of Ghana to restrict cocoa farming to specifically designated land use areas. He also noted that license/permit issuance for export does not make references to legality of the source (planted and harvested) of produce. He queried whether the policy making regime in the sector was based on active participation of multi-stakeholders? He was not or very sure how the current management regime of cocoa in Ghana was addressing the issue of child labour as well as health and safety of farmers and cocoa handlers in the value chain. The TVD Director proceeded to make suggestions based on His experience and understanding of the cocoa sector on how a possible FLEGT-VPA application in the cocoa sector can mimic. He stated that first and foremost, there need to be a definition of what constitute a legal consignment of cocoa (legal cocoa). This He said needs to be based on multi-stakeholder discussions internally within Ghana but, also needs to be recognized by the international community (EU and other markets). Mr. Beeko also observed that there need to be a construct of protocols to ascertain compliance to the legal definition (legal standard). He also suggested that there need to be institutional and legal review/arrangements to give effect to protocols that will be developed. The need for demand side reforms to act as lever and motivation to do business under the new regime will be very important. He stressed on the relevance of multi-actor approach in policy formulation and discussions if the concept will be successful.
In conclusion, Mr. Beeko noted that governance reforms such as the FLEGT-VPA takes time, tact, resources and enduring political will. He also stated that, the losers and winners effect must be carefully thought through from the onset so as not to be derailed by unforeseen apathy on the part of those who might think they are losing bigly. He ended by cautioning that with potential governance reforms of this nature, one single deliverable cannot be sole success determinant. It should have milestones along the process timeframe such as – opened up policy making environment, clearer policy on cocoa land use, reduced deforestation, legal reforms, legal cocoa etc.
At the end of the meeting, it became evident that the cocoa sector needs reforms and some form of regulation to streamline its activities as the current arrangement was promoting cocoa deforestation. Participants were unanimous that if properly conceptualised through a multi-stakeholder process, cocoa VPA can provide the catalyst for reforming the sector in Ghana.
As a way forward from the meeting, a position paper is being developed from the outcome of group work and will be shared with stakeholders in coming weeks.