This is contained in a report released on Thursday by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and forwarded to the Ghana News Agency.
The report draws on the work of Forest Governance Learning Group (FGLG) teams in 10 countries in Africa and Asia to promote decision making about forests that is fair and sustainable.
It highlights success stories at the national level in which FGLG teams have influenced policy to promote outcomes that benefit forest-dependent communities who have been marginalised.
On the international stage the FGLG teams have focused on how their countries are preparing for REDD+, a system being developed to reward countries that maintain or increase their forest to limit emissions of greenhouse gases from deforestation.
FGLG teams in Ghana, Indonesia, Mozambique, Tanzania and Vietnam report that national plans for REDD+ could do more harm than good.
In many countries top-down, government-led plans for REDD+ have been rushed through and focus more on how to count carbon stored in trees than on how to actually implement a system that brings real benefits for communities, biodiversity and the climate.
On Ghana, the report revealed that for almost a century the timber business has been dominated by large companies who have been given concessions by the state.
It said failure of the system to allow local people to gain substantial benefits from the forest has led to a proliferation of unauthorized chainsaw operators who now account for the majority of trees felled in Ghana.
The report said many local people have decided to extract timber for their own benefits, regardless of a law which forbids it.
It said attempts to enforce the law had failed, often with loss of life in the process.
The report said some communities and chainsaw operators had recognised the problems and were taking matters into their own hands.
Some have formed the Domestic Lumber Trade Association, to press for legalisation.
With the NGO coalition ForestWatch Ghana and the government’s Forestry Commission, the Forest Governance Learning Group is working to abandon the pretence that the state could control timber trees on farmers’ lands and to explore better deals for local control of forestry.
Dr James Mayers, the Head of IIED’s Natural Resources Group and co-author of the FGLG report, said “REDD remains forestry’s best hope yet it must be built from the bottom up.”
“Strategies are difficult to turn around once they head off in the wrong direction and the costs of bad strategy for forests are extremely high,” he said.
Dr Mayers said to realise justice in the forests, policymakers must turn REDD on its head and put control of the forests into local hands.
The FGLG teams bring together representatives of communities, governments, civil society organisations, businesses and the media to influence policymaking.
FGLG teams operate in Ghana, Cameroon, India, Indonesia, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Vietnam.