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Ghana: What will you do, when all your forests are gone?

Ghana’s forests make significant contributions to the country’s economy. Timber exports used to be the third highest contributor to Ghana’s GDP, it might have slid, but still important. However, it appears, there is little purposeful effort to preserve while, fully benefitting from the country’s forest reserves in responsible ways.

Despite the known fact that the high rate of deforestation in the country, can lead to the emission of large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere with the consequence of severely impairing the country’s climatic conditions, the rate of deforestation, often sanctioned by authorities is uncontrollable.

As a matter of fact, 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. Climate change and its effects are imminent in Ghana.

These known facts notwithstanding Ghana’s forests are being decimated at high rates as if all that matters is the revenue generated to the state.

It is estimated that about three million cubic metres of wood is produced every year.  While this volume is considered inadequate, about 1.5 million cubic metres of illegal round wood equivalent of sawn timber is supplied to the domestic market.

Information available from 2009 suggests that over 70 per cent of Ghana’s population is dependent on natural resources for basic food, water and energy requirements. Figures contained in the 2007 Country Environmental Analysis indicates that the forestry, wildlife and mining sectors account for 15 per cent of GDP, 25 per cent of government revenues, and 60 per cent of foreign exchange.

Timber exports and domestic consumption

As demand for timber abroad grows, so also is demand for wood products locally.

It is estimated that about three million cubic metres of wood is produced every year.  While this volume is considered inadequate, about 1.5 million cubic metres of illegal round wood equivalent of sawn timber is supplied to the domestic market.

According to information on the Forestry Commission website, Ghana produces 17 wood products from 39 species which are exported to about 44 destinations worldwide.

The country exported a total of 302,536.083 cubic metres of wood products from January to November 2017 and earned some €167.8 million.

Loss of 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.

Disputes over deforestation

While it is generally agreed that Ghana is losing its forests, there is no agreement over how much is being lost.

In a report published by the World Resources Institute (WRI) in April 2019, it said  Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire had the highest percent rise in primary forest loss between 2017 and 2018 of any tropical country. The report puts Ghana’s loss at 60 per cent and that of Côte d’Ivoire at 26 per cent. The report attributed the loss to some reasons, including illegal mining.

But the Forestry Commission of Ghana refuted the findings of the WRI in a rejoinder, According to the Commission the presentation of forest given in the WRI publication, as well as the methodology used in the research suggests that what has been reported is relative annual change in tree cover and not forest cover.

A further interrogation of the original research data, the Commission argues, however indicates this figure to be 31.3 per cent, and added that it intends to write to the WRI to correct this error in the analysis of the original research data.

The quandary of Atewa forest

The Atewa forest range forms part of the Guinea-Congolean forest stretch in the West African Region. But excessive land-use and land-use cover change including; agriculture and urbanization disrupted it over the last six decades.

The forest has unique flora and fauna and it is said to provide water to over five million Ghanaians. It is the headwater for three rivers in the country: they are the Densu which flows into the Weija Dam, the Ayensu and the Birim which also supplies water to the Pra river and flows to the Western Region where it enters the sea.

The forest also serves other spiritual and cultural concerns of some of the inhabitants surrounding it.

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.

However, the Ghana government has announced it is giving out the forest to the Chinese to mine bauxite in return for a $2 billion financing facility. The President of the country has gone on public to say the mining won’t harm the environment, even though the environmental impact assessment report hasn’t been made public.

Despite protests from civil society, the government has been adamant, choosing instead to harp the economic benefits to the economy – often not in any transparent manner.

Considering the conduct of the Chinese in how they have ravaged mining communities in Ghana for gold, and left many destroyed with rivers and streams very likely polluted with poisonous chemicals used in mining, it is not unlikely that there would be issues with the conduct of whichever company might be engaged in the mining of bauxite in Atewa forest.

Afforestation programmes

Over the years, in response to call to address the speeding loss of forests, individuals, organisations and even the government have undertaken afforestation programmes in different parts of the country. Commendable as these efforts are, they have not sufficiently mitigated the loss of natural forests.

For instance, it’s inconceivable that some of the trees that have been lost can easily be replaced – as they take as long as between 60 and 100 years to mature. With the damage to the environment and climate, even if seeds of these trees are planted, there aren’t any more favourable concomitant environmental circumstances to facilitate their healthy growth and maturation.

Desertification

Loss of forest cover among others also has the propensity to expose the country to the risks of soil erosion and desertification. It is estimated that about 65 per cent of Ghana is prone to desertification, it was 35 per cent 17 years ago – an indication that the problem is growing in spite of efforts to check desertification. Desertification can impact human habitats, agriculture, food security and lead to conflicts among communities.

Urgent need to act

A lot more realistic and sincere approaches are needed to face the specter of forest loss in the country. Apart from climatic alterations with consequences to the economy and society, there is an inalienable responsibility to preserve the country’s forests for future generations – a responsibility that is non-negotiable.

Trees can be replanted, but at the rate the country is losing its forests, and at this rate of afforestation, it is not likely that lost tree species can be replaced. It is also not very likely that natural forests can be regenerated.

When we get to the point where all the forests are gone, what will we do?

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Email: [email protected]
Copyright ©2019 by Creative Imaginations Publicity
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