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Any salvation for Ghana’s receding forest cover?

A truck carrying logs from one of the forest reserves

Along a sizeable portion of Ghana’s savanna, a secondary afforestation project has begun on the precincts of Wa in the Upper West Region.

The green aerial view of the still-sprouting skinny plants can hardly compare to the endowments of the vast greens that have turned the Eastern Region into a virtual freezing zone. Neither has it reached the levels that make Axim Ghana’s biggest rainfall territory.

But the venture in Wa — alongside the Gbele Game Reserve along the Wa-Tumu trunk road in the Upper West Region — has been a modest effort to address Ghana’s fast-receding forest cover, even if belatedly.

Statistics from Ghana’s inventory of forestry stock indicates that the state has lost 98 per cent of its forest cover as of 1994. The remaining two per cent has been at the mercy of marauding logging/lumber firms and chainsaw operators who have turned Ghana’s forests into lumber ‘galamsey’ pits.

In an era of global warming occasioned by forest degradation, deforestation and depletion of the world’s natural vegetation, logging/lumbering has taken a front seat at international fora to address — or so it seems — a problem that the human race faces across the entire world.

The linkage between depletion of vegetation and food production is a scary reality that threatens any effort to meet the Millennium Development Goals on food security and food sufficiency even beyond the 2015 target. For, the connection between forest and rainfall and food production in Ghana’s non-sophisticated agricultural sector is a simple case of interdependence.

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So it is that the discussions about Ghana’s changing rainfall pattern have ignored the negative influence of the receding forest cover on the impact of an erratic rainfall pattern and consequently an ever-shrinking farm harvest of various crops.

Looking on aloof

Unfortunately, Ghana appears to be looking on aloof as its remaining thin forest cover nears total extinction in the hands of selfish firms and individuals driven only by financial profit, while reckless bush burning, population growth and attendant human activities such as housing infrastructure, among others, continue to erode the forest cover.

Indeed, the loss of forest cover has mainly been attributed to the indiscriminate ‘harvesting’ of timber to satisfy demand on both the local and international markets. But what cannot be tolerated is the manner illegal chainsaw operators have gained free access into even protected areas, and the system failure that has presided over a complete side-stepping of the legal framework governing the operations of licenced lumber firms.

Granted that demand for wood and wood products — even on just the Ghanaian market — continues to increase by the day, the manner illegal chainsaw operators continue to tear into Ghana’s forests easily compares to the level of damage ‘galamsey’ operators have done to water bodies and other natural resources in their exploration for gold.

The gross effect of the activities of these illegal chainsaw and ‘galamsey’ operators can make water bodies dry up because most of the trees along the banks of these water bodies are gone. Researchers are alarmed that if nothing is done about the situation, water will become very scarce in the country by the next five years.

Timber supplies

According to Obed Owusu-Addai, Programme Officer of Civic Response, a non-governmental organisation championing forest conservation, “Over 84 per cent of lumber on the Ghanaian market is supplied by the illegal chainsaw operators.”

Statistics show, however, that government is the biggest buyer of chainsaw lumber (illegally felled timber), with over 90 per cent of such lumber bought through the MMDAs.

What it means is that government has been the biggest consumer of the illegal timber on the local market, despite the various legal frameworks spearheaded by government itself to cure the issue of illegal timber.

In his foreword to the 2012 document on Ghana Forest & Wildlife Policy, then Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Mike Hammah, stated: “The implementation of the 1994 policy with all the associated reforms could not halt the degradation in the forest resource base.

“Illegal chainsaw and mining (galamsey) operations in the forest areas have thrived over the years despite conscious national effort to curb the situation in collaboration with the security agencies. Wood fuel productions, especially in the fragile areas of the savanna regions, have remained unsustainable while wildfires continue to be an annual occurrence in all the ecosystems.

“The timber industry still operates with obsolete equipment and has installed capacities exceeding the Annual Allowable Cut (AAC).”

Forest and wildlife policy

Indeed, the 2012 Ghana Forest & Wildlife Policy states that there is over-exploitation of timber resources, with the official 2 million cubic metres of the Annual Allowable Cut consistently being exceeded by 1.7 million cubic metres (nearly a double) since 2002.

As a result, the document projects that at least 10 important tree species known in Ghana’s vegetation could become extinct by 2022.

“Most of the prime indigenous species, which mainly generate substantial revenues for Ghana’s economy, have drastically reduced. The timber stock in the off-reserve areas are disappearing at faster rates, leaving the forest reserve areas as ‘vulnerable small isolated islands’ with limited population of trees and animals with low possibilities for genetic exchange,” the document states.

The frightening picture notwithstanding, the likes of the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, the Forestry Commission, the Game and Wildlife Division, among others, continue to watch on with utter disinterest as the country drives on the highway towards the poignant slogan of “when the last tree dies, the last man dies.”

The inexhaustible subject of what remains of Ghana’s forest cover cannot, however, ignore the fact that the timber industry employs about 120,000 people through the 84 registered sawmills and 12 companies with plywood capacity in the formal sector.

Forestry and logging also accounted for 3.7 per cent of Ghana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2009, contributing $240.9 million to the country’s total export value, according to the 2012 Ghana Forest & Wildlife Policy.

The suggestion is that streamlining the activities of lumber/timber firms, sawmills and the totality of Ghana’s forest products could generate greater revenue for the state without compromising the ecosystems and the greater good of the nation’s vegetation.