Press Release / Oct. 7, 2013

New report shows citizens are key to forest protection but lack support and voice

International schemes to protect forests are unlikely to succeed until they ensure that local civil society and communities are at the heart of forest monitoring, according to a new report published by twelve NGOs today.

Exploring credibility gaps in Voluntary Partnership Agreements: A review of independent forest monitoring initiatives and lessons to learn identifies several ways in which civil society and community participation could improve the effectiveness and reliability of these landmark agreements between the European Union and timber-producing developing countries. The deals set out to reduce the consumption in Europe of illegally harvested timber by improving forest laws, and their implementation, in tropical forests.

David Young, International Forests Advisor at Global Witness, said “Independent forest monitoring has been a feature of international efforts to improve forest governance and reduce illegal logging since the 1990s.This study shows how and why the people who can do most to protect forests at a local level do not have currently enough of a say, which is bad for them and for the forests. It’s essential reading for those designing, funding, supporting and implementing monitoring by local civil society groups and communities.

The study summarises progress to date and the challenges monitors face in six countries where a Voluntary Partnership Agreement has been finalised, and two where agreements are being negotiated. The study provides the following key insights:

  • Independent Forest Monitoring has improved credibility in the forest sector through increased transparency and independent identification of systemic failures in forest governance. It is evidence-based, observes set protocols and provides a continuous, investigatory function in support of official law enforcement.
  • Independent Forest Monitoring is notably different from the Independent Audit function included in every Voluntary Partnership Agreement, and is an important additional component in the successful implementation of each agreement. Funding of such initiatives needs to continue, but more rigour in functions, status, and outputs is required.
  • Independent Forest Monitoring implemented by local civil society needs to be context-specific, and already takes different forms in different countries. Key factors include the pre-existence of Independent Forest Monitoring; the understanding and positioning of local civil society; and scale – there are fewer than half a dozen civil society groups implementing monitoring in Cameroon or Liberia, and over 40 in Indonesia. These groups need to further develop the exchange of ideas, strategies and experiences to strengthen understanding and effectiveness.
  • The degree of official recognition of civil society monitors is poorly developed or understood. Many current implementers are restricted in their access to forest locations and official information, but fear co-option by state agencies if this is mediated through the kind of contract previous Independent Forest Monitoring functions have had. More work is needed to support Memorandums of Understanding or similar arrangements between civil society monitors and state authorities.

The study, by independent researchers, was commissioned by Global Witness, FERN, and ten forest monitoring groups from Cameroon, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Indonesia, Liberia, and the Republic of Congo. In launching the report, lead author Duncan Brack concluded, “No system is fool proof, and once licensed-legal timber starts to enter the European market, it is essential that people have confidence in its legality. The overall conclusion of the study is clear: effective independent monitoring will be essential to the credibility of the Voluntary Partnership Agreements and the timber products they license as legal.


David Young, International Forests Advisor, Global Witness. Tel: +251 935377236; [email protected]

An Bollen, Forest Governance Campaigner, FERN. Tel: +32 28944693; [email protected]

Duncan Brack, lead author of the study. Tel: +44 7703 582 219; [email protected]

Claudine Léger, author and translator of the study. Tel: +33 52483243; [email protected]

Contact details for each of the commissioning NGOs are on the inside cover of the report.

Notes to editors:

  1. For more information on VPAs please visit the Logging Off website
  2. The study was written by Duncan Brack and Claudine Léger on behalf of the twelve commissioning NGOs but remains an independent publication by the authors. It was funded by the UK Department for International Development. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the department’s official policies.