A programme to promote the uptake of sustainability best practices in forestry and agricultural commodity supply chains in West Africa has taken off.
Known as the ‘Africa Legality Programme,’ its goal is to promote legal compliance as a first step for businesses to demonstrate compliance with national and international commitments, and at the same time promote smallholder and gender inclusion.
Ultimately, the programme will find out how legal compliance can help companies to produce in a responsible manner and deliver on their sustainability commitments.
At a regional workshop in Accra on March 28, 2017, on the ‘Legality and Sustainability in the Timber and Agriculture Supply Chains,’ the Minister of Food and Agriculture (MOFA), Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto, said establishing partnerships and working with all stakeholders was the best way to find solutions to the challenges the region faced in its quest to develop agricultural commodities successfully.
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“Much as this work seems tailored towards helping companies, we are in this ‘boat’ together and as a government, we are interested in finding out how effective our legal framework is in promoting sustainability and helping the sector to grow,” he said in a speech read on his behalf.
He added that the government would continue to engage all stakeholders in the agricultural supply chain in the quest to achieve sustainable commodity agriculture.
Nana Darko Cobbina of Proforest said commodity agriculture was a key element of the region’s development strategy, adding that the concern was about maximising the positive effect and minimising the negative aspects since they can contribute to local livelihoods and national developments.
He said although responsible sourcing and production commitments were voluntary, legal compliance was not.
Against this background, he said all producers, large or small should operate legally and that implementing legal requirements should, therefore, be part of the normal cost of doing business not an additional burden.
“Focusing on legal compliance can provide a framework for companies to work with governments to create large-scale long-term change and providing businesses and stakeholders with guidance on legal compliance, synthesise from research and stakeholder engagement to underpin the local approaches to provide technical support to implement the guidance,” he said.
The Africa Regional Director of Proforest, Mr Abraham Baffoe, outlined some legal benchmarking undertaken in some African countries such as the Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) 2020 initiative, the Round-table for Sustainable Palm Oil and the Forest Stewardship Council.
In an interview, he said it was important to manage our natural resources well for generations unborn.
"Sustainability is important in natural resources. We are focusing on legality compliance so as to help strengthen enforcement in the laws to promote sustainability," he said.
He said Proforest’s programmes created the enabling environment and built the needed capacity for the private sector, working with governments and civil society to deliver agricultural and forest commodities sustainably at scale.
“Proforest has provided consultancy services to help companies meet their environmental and social commitments from zero deforestation to protecting workers’ rights for over 15 years. But large-scale impact can only be achieved if localised efforts to improve agricultural and forestry practices are supported by wider changes needed to make sustainable practices the norm,” he said.
The regional workshop
Stakeholders in the forest and agricultural commodities supply chain, particularly timber, palm oil and cocoa, government and civil society representatives from Ghana, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroun met to discuss how legal compliance could support sustainable commodity markets.
Proforest and BVRio Environmental Exchange co-hosted the workshop in collaboration with the Government of Ghana, through the MOFA to explore ways to which legal compliance can support reducing forest loss and provide a platform for developing more responsible production and sourcing.
Experts say that actively building provides a way to embed voluntary commitments and industry processes in the national context of each country and potentially bring a number of additional benefits.