Forests are finished, what next…

July 26, 2017
Source: Ekow ESSABRA-MENSAH  l l Ghana
Forests are finished, what next…

In the wake of rapidly disappearing forests of Ghana, Vision 2050 Forestry (VFL) is suggesting to the Forestry Commission (FC) to urgently divert its attention from granting of exploitation licenses, permits and conveyance certificates to growing and preserving the country’s forests cover. 

This is urgent as deforestation is changing weather pattern, drying up rivers and reducing agricultural output.

The FC must as well confront illegal logging seriously as it threatens livelihood and existence of rural communities.

Dr. Frank Frempong, Chief Executive Officer of Vision 2050 Forestry (VFL), a non-governmental advocacy body, explained to BFT in an interview that the Forestry Commission must be at the forefront in restoring the country’s forests, adding that the legal framework must be amended to allow for more private participation. 

According to VTF, Ghana’s tropical forest cover has decreased from 8.6 million hectares at the beginning of the 1900s to about 1.6 million hectares in 1990, and the deforestation rate is high - nearly 65,000 hectares per year. 

The government is unable to provide all the financial resources needed to carry out all the afforestation and reforestation projects, hence the urgent need for court private capital inflow into the sector.

“VTF’s major concern is that about 98% of lumber in our markets is illegal- How do the perpetrators cross all the security and forestry check points without arrests? We are all at risk,” said Dr. Frempong, adding that VTF has invested US$120million to grow 200 million trees nationwide and suggests that demand for wood by the current generation can be met by culling only 5% every year.

“In view of the magnitude of the harm humans have collectively caused the planet earth, we require climate friendly ideas to drastically reduce or reverse the trend."

According to recent reports from NASA observatory in Mauna Loa in Hawai, the concentration of Carbon Dioxide (the main agent causing global warming) has exceeded 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in recorded history. 

The centre observes that since its first recording in 1958, the concentration of Carbon Dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere has increased by 24%. 

This trend shows increasing danger for our existence on earth; heedless we are though.

“Private financing of greenhouse emission reduction projects, both domestic and international, can play a critical role in mitigating risk and leveraging greater private investment in climate projects,” he said.

He noted that VFL has so far engaged 300,000 farm managers in 850 communities across the country to oversee its planted trees. In the past 20 years, funding of the projects has been privately sourced.  

Dr. Frempong added: “It is surprising that several logging concessions have been granted in forest reserves, and gold exploitation and mining leases have been granted in the country’s forest reserves to mining companies. 

“The result is that Ghana has been transformed in the last 100 years from a lush forest country a low-forest cover country, and now our children, water bodies and wildlife are at risk,” he said.


Forest institutions

The main institution in charge of forests is the Ministry of Lands & Natural Resources, supported by the Forestry Commission (FC), whose sub-entities include the Divisions of Forest Services, Wildlife, and Timber Industry Development.

The FC was restructured as a semi-autonomous body in 1999 to improve its effectiveness. 

In addition, the public forest sector agencies responsible for the protection, development, management and regulation of forest and wildlife resources were brought under its mandate. 

However, the result has instead being more disappearance of the forest. The FC retains a number of potentially conflicting functions: Law enforcement, monitoring, forest management, and timber revenue collection.  

In playing the contradictory role of facilitator of timber exploitation, the FC has undermined its own prospects for success in forest conservation. 

The existing enforcement capacity is weak, leading to poor governance within the sector with a widespread disregard for forest rules and regulations.   


Forest policy and legislation

Ghana has a long history of forest policies and legislations. 

The first forest policy was established in 1947 and actively encouraged the clearing and conversion of forests forest to agricultural land use.   

Some examples are Forests Ordinances 1927, Forest Policy 1947, Trees and Timber Decree 1974, Tropical Forest Action Plan 1989, Forest Commission Act 1997, Forest Protection Decree 1974, Forestry Commission Law 1993.  

In the 1980s, Ghana largely increased the national investments in logging equipment to service national deficit by wood-based exports.  

Consequently, Ghana’s forests were put under excessive exploitation, illegal harvesting was rampant and there was neglect for established harvesting procedures in the mid-1990s. 

In addition, forestry institutions became demoralized and inefficient because of continued underfunding.   

The forestry policy was revised in line with Ghana’s 1992 constitution and approved in 1994 as the forest and wildlife Policy. 

This policy provided opportunities for integrated forest management and for the first time gave right to Ghanaians to have access to the natural resources for maintaining their livelihoods.

The policy focuses on collaboration between the government and private entities. 

However, the policy did not produce the expected effects as strategies were not developed by which the objectives of this policy could be realized.  

In addition, the government’s focus was still on commercial exploitation of timber to service Ghana’s growing external debts: consequently, the deforestation continued.

In 1996, a working group drawn from government, the private sector and communities developed the forestry sector development master plan 1996-2020 to guide the implementation of the 1994 policy.

The Ministry of Lands & Natural Resources through its agencies such as the Forestry Commission must lead the change by encouraging more private capital inflow and providing changes in the legal framework