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26.03.2009 Business & Finance

Workshop on Small and Medium Forest Enterprises (SMFEs) opens


A two-day expert panel workshop on Small and Medium Forest Enterprises (SMFEs) on Thursday opened in Accra to discuss a study and other issues relevant to SMFEs in Ghana.

The workshop, which has brought together proprietors, promoting agencies, relevant state agencies, NGOs and experts, also seeks to bring to the fore the numerous challenges of SMFEs and how best to address them to make their contribution more relevant to reducing poverty among a greater percentage of the Ghanaian populace.

Mr. Samuel Kwabena Nketiah, Programme Team Leader, Tropenbos International-Ghana, a Non-Governmental Organisation, in his presentation said SMFEs had a significant potential to contribute to poverty reduction and sound resource management.

This is by virtue of their disposition to build wealth locally, empower local entrepreneurship, submit to local and environmental license to operate and preserve cultural identity.

Under the theme; “Defining Mechanisms for Positioning SMFEs to Contribute Meaningfully to Poverty Reduction,” Mr Nketiah said SMFEs in Ghana supported a large number of livelihoods and that their activities accounted for about 95 per cent of incomes of some rural households.

The workshop, among other objectives, serve as a platform for creating “Forest Connect” working groups, with the task of developing activities for connecting SMFEs in Ghana to market, network, support and information services and national policies and programmes.

He said for many rural households, SMFEs served as additional or alternative sources of income, providing a safe net when the main livelihood activity, mostly farming, had failed, and even outweighed the formal forestry sector.

Mr Nketiah, however, stated that in spite of their enormous role and contributions, SMFEs were bedevilled with numerous challenges as a result of which the full potential of the sub-sector was not realized.

He said though they had high set-up rates, majority of them survived for only a short period, due to lack of connectivity between SMFE proprietors and relevant bodies.

Mr Nketiah blamed the poor performance of the sector on the fact that the sub-sector received very little or no attention in national forest policies, legislation and programmes.

He said people engaged in these enterprises were faced with problems such as unfavourable policies and legislations, excessive bureaucracy, insecure land tenure systems, poor market information, inaccessibility to credit, poor infrastructure, inadequate technology, weak bargaining power and insufficient business know-how.

Mr Nketiah said to be able to shape the business environment and policies in their favour, and adopt new market opportunities, SMFEs needed to be connected to each other and to markets, national forest programmes, service providers and support networks.

“An innovative Forest Connect project has been initiated by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), to help establish this connectedness,” he said.

He said the project would among other things connect SMFEs by facilitating associations, facilitate market analysis and access to market information and support networks and information services through strengthening capacity to offer appropriate training and finance.

He said the project had identified national hubs in 11 countries including Ghana, Burkina Faso, China, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Guyana, India, Laos, Mali, Mozambique and Nepal, to provide information and networking support services to SMFE associations in the respective countries.

He said in Ghana, Tropenbos International was the national hub, which under the coordination of IIED, would provide information and network support services to help establish the necessary connections among SMFEs and with relevant bodies.

“The connectedness is expected to help increase the number of successful and sustainable SMFEs in the country,” he said.

Mr Nketiah explained that the diagnostic study of the SMFE sub-sector was part of the initial activities of TBI, supported by IIED to catalogue the opportunities and constraints to SMFE development in Ghana.

Mr James Mayers, Representative of IIED, which is based in the Netherlands, said it was expected that participants would form a “Forest Connect Steering Committee,” with defined terms of reference and further come out with recommendations that would see the transition of SMFEs from insecure and unsustainable practices to equitable, secure and sustainable models.