Eight communities in Bowiiri Kyirahi in the Volta Region and the Ghana Forestry Commission on Friday signed an agreement to implement a collaborative management of the Odomi River Forest Reserve for five years.
Representatives of the various communities signed for their respective communities while the Acting Chief Executive of the Ghana Forestry Commission, Mr John Ekow Otoo signed on behalf of the Commission in the presence of Miss Teresa Amarley Tagoe, Deputy Minister of Lands and Forestry, in Accra.
Nana Amoah Nyarko, President of the Volta Region Association of Community Forest Management Committee and Nana Asante Bediako, Legal Advisor and Head of the Community Groups, led the group.
Mr Justice Kusi-Minkah Premo, a Legal Consultant of Minkah-Premo and Company, was the mediator.
The parties agreed among other things that the Forestry Commission and the Forest Management Committee would collaborate in executing initiatives to better manage the Reserve.
Some of the activities to be undertaken include official demarcation of the boundaries and mapping.
The agreement is renegotiable on terms and conditions agreeable to both parties 12 months before the expiry date.
The parties also agreed that in accordance with Section 539 of LI 1649, net revenue from the disposal of off-cuts in the operational area would be to the benefit of the community.
Admitted farm owners would be allowed to utilise their lands for any agricultural purpose be it perennial or annual.
They also agreed that all contracts and supervision of any activity in the Reserve should be done in consultation with the Community Forest Management Committee and the Traditional Authority as provided by Act 547 and LI 1649.
The Taungya system of farming by the community in the Reserve must be reintroduced.
Harvesting of non-timber forest resources like mushrooms, snails, canes, cafa leaves and cutting of firewood should be permitted subject to the receipt of the appropriate licence where required.
Miss Tagoe said the contract was a pilot project and its success would enable the Ministry to replicate it in other areas.
The Forest Protection and Resource Use Management Project supported by the German Agency for Technical Cooperation had been involved in the implementation of a Collaborative Forest Reserve Management Programme in five forest reserves in the Volta Region since 1999.
Miss Tagoe commended GTZ for the initiative and expressed the hope that other organisations would emulate them.
She said the parties were expected to manage these resources without any conflict and misunderstanding, adding that the Ministry would also be prepared to assist.
In a welcome address read for Mr Dominic Fobih, Minister of Land and Forestry, he said lessons learnt from the failures of past forest management approaches had generated high interest in collaborative resource management concepts all over the world.
He said close cooperation with resource owners, stools, traditional leaders, forest user groups and village committees and self-help organisations was perceived as a significant factor that could contribute to sustainable natural resource management.
He noted, however, that the command attitude of Foresters, who guarded the forest made the people to feel that they were being deprived of the use of their own property and this made collaboration difficult.
He said a lot of communication barriers between Foresters and the local people still existed and there was the need to remove them by initiating local level dialogue and participation and the development of legal frameworks that would allow communities to be part of decision-making in forest management and utilisation.