At the onset of the 20th century, Ghana’s land area of 238,537m had a forest cover of 8.4 million hectares. But from that time to 1950, the country lost half of its forest cover, leaving only 4.2 hectares.
Alarmingly, by 1999 a further 2.3 million hectares of the remaining 4.2 million hectares had been degraded, with just 1.9 million hectares of the forest remaining.
But we must not lose sight of the importance of forest to the socio-economic development of the country, as the forest cannot be de-linked from food security, livelihoods, clean and abundant water resources, energy, climate change and biodiversity conservation.
We cannot also discount the role of forests and trees in our socio-cultural and economic well-being. Forests contain a high amount of carbon, which is essential to life on earth, and it is worthy to note that Ghana’s forests also contain about 1,200 species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles, some of which are unique to the country and cannot be found in any other country.
It became obvious, then, that something drastic needed to be done to save the rest of the country’s forest from depletion and that culminated in the introduction of the 1994 Forest and Wildlife Policy that provided a framework for forest resource use and administration.
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Following the promulgation of the 1992 Constitution, a new wildlife policy that reflected the development aspirations of Ghana to conserve and develop its forest and wildlife resources sustainably for the benefit of society was also introduced.
Ironically, during the period those policies were introduced with strategies to achieve sustainable forest resource management, between 1990 and 2000, Ghana lost an average of 135,400 hectares of forest per year, and from 2001 to 2013 (just over a decade), it lost more than 500,000 hectares (seven per cent) of its forest.
Experts have warned that we risk losing our total forest cover as a result of illegal logging and, lately, illegal mining activities.
It is thus proper that the current government has taken some initiatives to plant more trees to shore up our forest cover.
It has introduced the Youth in Afforestation module as a component of the National Youth Employment Agency, with the aim of reducing the danger of global warming, preventing erosion and desertification, maintaining soil fertility and beautifying the environment.
Indications are that the Youth in Afforestation programme is doing well. So far, about 65,000 youth recruited under the programme have planted about 10 million seedlings of different species across the country since July last year. This translates into about 150,000 trees per person, which is encouraging.
While the Daily Graphic is happy about this development and commends the Forestry Commission (FC) for the good work, it cautions that as a country we have trod this path before.
What we rather note is that over the years the country has concentrated its attention on planting trees without nurturing them.
We hope that this time round conscious efforts will be made to nurture the trees as they are planted, so that the programme does not end up wasting resources, as was witnessed in the recent past.
We also note the delay in the payment of salaries to these hardworking youth and urge the Forestry Commission and the Ministry of Finance to expedite action to effect the payments, so that enthusiasm among the workers does not wane.
Our forests must be saved and the FC, with the youth, has started a good work; it must be encouraged to make it sustainable for the benefit of all now and in the future.