At the Supoma Forest Reserve, a local company, Fineness Elevation Company Ltd, is reclaming 22.8 hectares of degraded forest reserve. Workers of the company and Forestry Commission officers, demonstrating to our reporter, Timothy Ngnenbe, the visible evidence of the dangers chemicals used by illegal miners pose to the land
At the Supoma Forest Reserve, a local company, Fineness Elevation Company Ltd, is reclaming 22.8 hectares of degraded forest reserve. Workers of the company and Forestry Commission officers, demonstrating to our reporter, Timothy Ngnenbe, the visible evidence of the dangers chemicals used by illegal miners pose to the land
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Galamsey galore - Killing our forests, mortgaging our existence

A plethora of gaping pits straddle the dusty road that leads into the Denyau Shelterbelt Forest Reserve located in the Bekwai Forest District in the Ashanti Region. 

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The uncovered pits left behind by illegal miners are inundated with milky-brown water that breeds mosquitoes. The pits are sandwiched by several heaps of soil excavated from the belly of the earth.

This was the obscene scene of environmental destruction I witnessed on February 6, this year, when I embarked on a weeks mission to find out the extent to which illegal mining activities, popularly called “galamsey,” were wreaking havoc on the environment. Dangerous as the mission was, I found solace in the security protection offered by the armed Forestry Commission task force from the Bekwai Forest District.  

As we made our way through fringe communities, such as, Adamso No.1 and No.2, Ampoyase Nkwanta and Manukrom to the production forest, sounds of excavators and other mining equipment could be heard from far and near. In some instances, illegal miners were seen doing brisk business, with swathes of land reduced to nothing.

When we got to the Denyau Forest Reserve, it was observed that hundreds of trees had been pulled down and vast portions of the restricted forest wiped off, leaving the area dotted with open pits that were filled with water.

The situation at the Supoma Forest Reserve was not different. Large tracts of the forest had been destroyed by illegal mining activities, while off-reserve areas stretching across fringe communities, such as, Kubi, Betenase, Lagos and Ahinforoso were equally plagued with galamsey.

Meanwhile, official records at the Bekwai Forest District revealed that out of the 13 forest reserves with a total area of 656.53 kilometres (km), six of them had been heavily affected by galamsey.

For instance, a State of the Nation’s Forest report by the Forestry Commission on May 2, 2023, indicated that 421.11 hectares of the Oda River Forest Reserve located within the Bekwai Forest District had been wiped off by illegal miners.

Such is the case with the 3,500-hectare Apamprama forest where 1,729.32 hectares (49.4 per cent) have been destroyed by illegal miners and the 2,300-hectare Subin Shelterbelt reserve has 87.21 hectares reduced to deep gullies.

Even more worrying, was the fact that 392,714.81 hectares of the country’s 288 forest reserves had been significantly impacted by illegal mining activities, out of which 4,726.26 hectares in 34 of the reserves had been confirmed  destroyed.

Some of these forest reserves are Offin Shelterbelt and Asenanyo in the Nkawie Forest District in the Ashanti Region; Nueng South and Bonsa River forest reserves in the Tarkwa Forest District in the Western Region; Atewa Range Extension and Atewa Range in the Kade and Kyebi forest districts in the Eastern Region.

Paradox

Since 2021, the government has planted 44.5 million trees in degraded forest reserves and other off-reserve areas as part of the Green Ghana Day Project, an initiative meant to restore the country’s degraded landscape.

In the first edition, seven million trees were planted, while 26 million trees and 11.5 million tree seedlings were planted in 2022 and 2023, respectively. Again, 10 million trees have been targeted to be planted this year as all stakeholders unite in a national effort to address the global climate crisis.

The expectation is that even as these trees are planted, frantic efforts will be made to protect forest reserves from being depleted, especially so when the Environmental Protection (Mining in Forest Reserves) Regulations (L.I. 2462) prohibits mining activities in those reserves.

Ironically, evidence on the grounds proved that forest reserves continue to be under siege by illegal miners who cut down trees with impunity. While Section 3(1) of L. I 2462 forbids the issuance of any mining activity in protected areas, section 3(2) of the same law gives the leeway to the President to approve, in writing, a mining company to undertake mining activity in a globally significant biodiversity area in the national interest.”

While some licenses are being issued for mining in forest reserves “in the national interest,” the environmental consequences are dire.
 

Climate crisis

The destruction of landscapes in both forest reserves and off-reserve areas by galamsey operators harms the global climate crisis given that forests serve as carbon sinks. The Director of Climate Vulnerabilities and Adaptation at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Dr Antwi-Boasiako Amoah, described the cutting down of trees and destruction of the environment through illegal mining as an ecological disaster that aggravates the climate crisis.

The climate change expert said trees were crucial because they provided shelter and stored carbon that was of great importance to human beings and the ecosystem. Again, he stressed that cutting down trees meant depriving human beings of the oxygen they needed for existence.

“When you cut down trees, all the carbon that has been stored in these trees is going to be exposed to the atmosphere. The water bodies that are within mining areas are polluted to the highest level with heavy metals and this is not good for humanity,” he said.

Dr Antwi-Boasiako added that the Green Ghana project rolled out by the government to plant millions of trees would not make the desired impact if efforts were not made to halt illegal mining.  

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“If you plant thousands of trees and allow tens of thousands of others to be cut down because of illegal mining, then you have not done the planet and humanity any good. It is like using a basket to fetch water,” he said.

It is estimated that 72 per cent of the earth's plants and animals dwell in forests, and deforestation affects them directly and puts them at risk of extinction. The world is said to be losing 137 species of plants, animals and insects every day to deforestation

The Dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Ghana, Prof. Kwasi Torpey, also said apart from depriving the community of oxygen production, the cutting down of trees increased the risk of zoonotic diseases.

“As we cut down the trees, we are driving animals which live in that ecosystem closer to us; and that is why we are seeing that in the last five years, Ghana has had some epidemics in different parts of the country such as yellow fever, Lassa fever,” he said. 

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Way forward

Chiefs in mining communities must live up to their duty as custodians of the land by resisting illegal mining activities in the area, especially in forest reserves. Sometimes when people go wayward, they are summoned by chiefs. They should use the same momentum to prevent galamsey operators from destroying the land.

The “powerful people” in society and politicians who are reportedly fuelling illegal mining must be exposed through naming, shaming and jailing to deter others from that act. The security agencies, the judiciary and other related actors must ensure that people who mine illegally are arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned to serve as deterrents to others. If they are arrested and left off the hook to go freely, others will be emboldened to do the same. 

Writer’s E-mail:[email protected]

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