The country’s rich forests contribute about five to eight per cent of GDP and it is 15% of merchandise exports. Ghana’s forest products, especially timber are the third highest foreign exchange earner for Ghana’s economy after cocoa and gold. Every year Ghana earns some US$300 million from timber products. The country’s largest importers are Germany, the Netherlands, France, Italy and Britain.
The need for decisive action to restore Ghana’s forests is even the more desirable in the face of the challenges of global warming and its associated risks.
There is the fear that as a result of the high rate of deforestation in the country, an enormous amount of greenhouse gases would be emitted into the atmosphere and that would severely impair the country’s climatic conditions.
Indeed studies have shown that tropical forests have a great deal of interactions with the atmosphere with consequential effects on the climate. For instance, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are released into the atmosphere and these modify the climate.
What this means is that if a greater proportion of forests are lost, these gases would saturate the atmosphere leading to alteration of the climate.
There is also the reality of loss of habitat of rich biodiversity, human settlements and diminishing rare species of flora and fauna culminating in the loss of long held traditional modes of forest preservation and the delicate use of specific forest products for medicinal purposes and other uses that in the past have sustained indigenous people and preserved their rich cultures.
The decline rate of Ghana’s forest cover
At the turn of the 20th Century, Ghana’s forests covered around 8.2 million hectares of land. By the late 1980s, the forest cover has shrunk to less than 18,000 km2, which means a reduction of the forest cover to 2.1 million hectares.
By the year 2007, the forest cover of the country has been reduced significantly to 1.6 million hectares. Forestry sources say since independence from Great Britain in 1957, the annual rate of forest loss has been averaging 65,000 hectares yearly.
And according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, between the year 2000 and 2005 Ghana lost an average of 115,400 hectares of forest per year.
The decline rate of Ghana’s forests was so alarming that a one time Minister of Lands and Forestry in the NDC government, Dr. Kwabena Adjei expressed the fear that, Ghana will become a net importer of wood in the 21st century if immediate reforestation is not vigorously pursued, taking into account the country’s population and diminishing forest resources.
Causes of forest loss in Ghana
Some of the activities that contribute to Ghana’s forest loss are both essential and complex.
The forests are natural resources on which a good number of people depend for their livelihoods. Businesses also depend on the forests. In addition to the economic, social and cultural values, the forests also serve as a cushion against climate change.
But due to the heavy dependence on forest resources for survival, human activities such as logging, farming, fuel production and farming have become the very causes of forest loss.
How logging causes deforestation
Most of the logging that goes on in Ghana’s forests is illegal, and it is done at a very fast rate. For instance when mature trees are cut in the forests they are not replaced. And younger trees are not allowed to mature in most cases.
While official records indicate that some 200 timber companies have been licensed to log trees in Ghana’s forests with an obligation to replant trees, the process is not effectively monitored by the authorities for strict compliance. As a result, there is no sufficient replenishing of cut trees.
The institution mandated to do this is under staffed and poorly resourced.
There is also the case of illegal loggers or those known as Chain Saw operators, who fell trees without authorization and do it indiscriminately. Illegal loggers are also known to fell rare tree species and young trees, thereby worsening an increasingly bad situation.
These activities have increased the decline of very useful but endangered tree species like the Mahogany among others.
The process these illegal loggers use to cut and convey trees out of the forests by dragging, also increase the loss of other non-economic trees with medicinal and cultural values to local people.
How farming contributes to deforestation
Farming methods in Ghana have not seen any significant revolution for a long time. Most farmers still practice slash and burn methods. The use of crude and obsolete farming tools to some extent inflicts some damage on the forests. These activities eventually, contribute to climate change.
Most farming activities take place in forested areas. When farmers clear the forests, the top layer of the soil is exposed. The layer contains some organic carbon and this is released into the atmosphere through evaporation.
Through burning of wood, leaves, and grasses that are collected after clearing farm lands, some amounts of nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere.
Some farming also is done on the banks of rivers and streams which serve as sources of water for some forests. These farming activities also lead to pollution of these water sources and in some cases they dry up, and the result is that the affected forests lose their source of nourishment and die, contributing to forest loss.
Mining is a major cause of forest loss in Ghana
It is common knowledge that a great deal of the mining activities in Ghana takes place in forest areas. For mining activities to be carried out, forests have to be destroyed to make way. Some government sources have revealed that by the year 2000, over ten forest reserves have been leased out by government to mining companies.
Often after mining activities have been halted when all the mineral deposits have been extracted, these forests are not reclaimed. As a matter of fact, most of these never recover as a result of severe pollution from chemicals used in mining. Even though, some of the mining companies attempt to reclaim some of these forests, they never restore them to their original states, further depleting Ghana’s forest cover.
What can be done to restore the country’s forests?
So much is being done to restore the country’s forests. But the results almost always fall below projected levels.
Fact is, the dynamics are complex and often politicians at the forefront of the efforts to restore Ghana’s forests lack the technical knowledge and will to do what ought to be done, especially in the face of competing challenges of development and poverty eradication.
There is also the problem of institutional responsibility. Most Government institutions and agencies that have been charged with the responsibility of protecting the forests have overlapping responsibilities and lack co-ordination in planning the execution of their duties. They sometimes clash with each other. In some cases some claim supervisory roles over the other. The lack of clear mandates though, in some cases has been resolved after some negotiations, but not much has been achieved in terms of effective control of deforestation.
To achieve any appreciable level of sustainability, government must in all sincerity bring all stakeholders in the forestry sector together and discuss ways based on international conventions and find locally relevant and sustainable means of curbing the high incidence of deforestation in the country. Or else, if the current rate of deforestation continues, it will not be long before the country loses its forest cover, which in itself would spell disaster for the country.
There is hope for Ghana’s forests
Thankfully, recently, hope for the country’s forests have been renewed. A visiting research team from Conservation International’s Rapid Assessment Program from the US found rare species of flora and fauna in the Atewa Forest Range in the Eastern Region.
In a report released by the organization in December 2006, the discoveries that were made include a critically endangered frog species (Conraua derooi) whose presence in Atewa may represent the last viable population in the world; an unusually high 22 species of large mammals and six species of primates including two species of global conservation concern: Geoffroys pied colobus (Colobus vellerosus) and the olive colobus (Procolobus verus); 17 rare butterfly species; six bird species of global conservation concern including the brown-cheeked hornbill (Bycanistes cylindricus) and the Nimba flycatcher (Melaenornis annamarulae) (first time recorded in Ghana); and nine species new to science: a spider tick whose lineage is as old as the dinosaurs and eight species of katydids.
Government must do what it takes to protect and consolidate this revelation.
Again there is news that gives some glimmer of hope to forest watchers, a report in the December 14, 2007 issue of The Chronicle say forest cover in the Volta Region has improved. According to the report the forest cover in the region has increased from 6,000 hectares in 1976 to 14,000 hectares in 2007. The report also said there has been an increase in wood-fuel production from small scale producers. Within a period of 13 years of inception, the small scale fuel wood producers have achieved a yield of 50,000m3 in 2007 from nothing.
These developments at Atewa and the Volta Region show that there is hope for Ghana’s forests, but only when the right policies, laws and decisions are implemented by government without fear or favor.
There is also the need for government agencies responsible for managing Ghana’s forests, to work hard at streamlining their activities in the light of international conventions, best practices and the laws of Ghana, and together with all stakeholders in the industry carve out a more pragmatic way forward for a more sustainable forestry management and utilization.
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi