The Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Mr Mike Hammah, has called for a collective and shared responsibility from civil society and private community to help protect the forest from further depletion.
The minister said the challenging state of the nation’s forest resources needed a more pragmatic solution to address the situation, stressing that the timber industry’s raw material requirement was currently in excess of 2.7 million metric tonnes annually out of which there was a supply gap of 430,000 metric tonnes on the domestic market.
Mr Hammah made the call at the eight quadrennial delegates’ conference of the Timber Woodworkers Union of the Ghana Trades Congress in Cape Coast on Wednesday.
The two-day conference under the theme: “Sustainable Forest Management and The Decent Work Agenda” is among others to take stock of its past activities over the past four years, formulate new policies, draw up new programmes for its development and then plan strategies to address the numerous challenges facing the timber and wood working industry.
The Minister said the current raw material gap was fuelling illegal logging particularly chainsaw lumber production and trade thereby putting many small and medium scale mills in distress and closures.
He said to help address the situation, the Government had structured possible interventions such as working on legal wood imports from sister countries in Africa to support the local production. This, he explained would be piloted before it was rolled out for the benefit of the entire industry.
Mr Hammah noted with concern that illegal chainsaw operation remained one of the greatest challenges to the Ministry and noted that the Ministry was tackling the menace by ensuring that at the forest gate the National Security task force prevented illegal operators from entering the forest.
He further said from the forest gate to the markets, checks on transport routes by forest guards would be intensified and at the market centres the sale of illegal lumber would be stopped completely.
He said a national wood procurement policy would also be introduced to ensure that all government agencies procure only legally sourced wood for construction.
Mr Hammah said the Ministry was currently reviewing the forest and wildlife policy and the forest development master plan to address some emerging issues in the sector.
He added that the review of the Wildlife Bill was now before Cabinet while the legislative instrument on off-reserve timber allocation was also being considered to ensure sustainable management of the forest resources.
He said Government had signed a voluntary partnership agreement with the European Union, which enjoined Ghana to export only legally sourced wood to the European market and also to ensure that wood in the domestic market was legally produced.
The Minister said under the Government’s reforestation programme instituted last year, 22,000 hectares of plantations had been established and which had generated about 28,000 jobs across the country.
He commended the Timer Wood Works Union for the establishment of forest plantation in Wenchi, this he stressed was a laudable effort and should encourage other unions and the private sector to also invest in the development of forest plantation.
The General Secretary of the Timber and Woodworkers Union of Ghana TUC, Mr Joshua Ansah noted that the theme of the conference was an admission that the forests had undergone massive deterioration over the years, saying it was very alarming.
He said presently, the country’s total forest cover had reduced from 8.2 million hectares to less than 1.6 million hectares and that of the remaining forest area, only about 32,000 hectares was in excellent conditions.
He said the rate of deforestation in the country per annum is 65,000 hectares and that at this rate of deforestation; Ghana would be without forest within the next 23 years if prudent measures were not put in place to address the situation.
Mr Ansah noted that indiscriminate logging, bush burning and bad farming practices had contributed to the rate of forest degradation in the country and also caused havoc on other benefits of the forest cover, including water quality and supply, soil fertility as well as biodiversity.
He said statistics indicates that 50 per cent of the 3.7 million cubic meters of timber being harvested annually from the forests accounted for illegal operations alone and that Ghana’s loss of revenue from timber to fire was currently estimated at $24 million.
He said what made the situation gloomy was the connivance of some unscrupulous staff of the law enforcement agencies with some timber dealers to exploit forest resources illegally and called on Government to ensure sustainable natural resources use through transparency and good governance.
The Central Regional Minister, Mrs Ama Benyiwa-Doe noted that the activities of the Timber and Wood workers Union of the Ghana TUC had impacted positively in the area of employment generation, infrastructural development and foreign exchange earnings for national development.
She said with the rapid disappearance of the forest cover in the country, if care was not taken, the survival of citizens and generations unborn would be endangered, calling for concerted efforts by sector Ministers and their agencies, Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies, NGOs as well as other stakeholders to promote the sustainable management of the forests.
She also urged that harvested areas be re-vegetated whilst investing part of corporate profits into a forestation programmes.
Mr Kofi Asamoah, Secretary General of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) expressed concern about the fact that inflation was low but people’s living conditions had not improved stressing there was still a lot of unemployed graduates in the system.
He noted that economic policy continued to emphasize inflation management without a clear policy to address the growing menace of joblessness particularly among young people, adding precarious employment was increasingly becoming the defining feature of the labour market in Ghana, thereby, making working conditions uncertain and insecure.
On the management of the forest, he called for dialogue between workers and timber and woodworkers union, stressing that Ghana continued to be ranked among countries with the highest rate of deforestation in the world and asked that everything should be done to address the situation.
The Forestry Commission and the Ghana Timber Miller Organization were presented with citation whilst Mr Owusu Bempah and Mr Eric Ayoo-Yeboah, the branch union chairman and secretary of the Timber and Woodworkers Union respectively, were each presented with a deep freezer and 21-inch television set for their contributions towards the development of the timber and wood industry.