The dwindling wood industry

February 21, 2017
Source: Dora Addy l l Ghana
The dwindling wood industry

The wood sector that used to bring much worth to the national economy, may be in serious jeopardy, while the country’s forests are fast losing their relevance through loss.

Previously, the wood sector contributed to some 11% of Ghana’s total foreign exchange earnings, while contributing between four(4%) and six (6%) percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but presently, the sector is fighting to stay in its bid to grow its base while overcoming other human and logistics challenges affecting the industry.

Providing jobs for more than 75,000 persons (Ghana Business News Portal 2015) reviving the hopes of many that work in the wood sector is an action plan that needs to be continually sought to bring life to an industry that may risk losing its strong contributions to the national economy.

Yet, forest reserves have reduced to 1.6 million hectares, from the previous 8.6 million hectares at the beginning of 2000.

There is still hope; the wood sector has not lost its value yet even though much support has not been channeled to this area, where local producers and manufacturers of wood continue to add value through their various contributions.

The tragedy of timber and wood

Felling of trees for economic purposes, increased population, mining, and bush burning for domestic purposes, are some of the prime reasons the forests are quickly disappearing.

While local wood and furniture manufacturers are striving to keep up with the losses in especially quality wood, some of the country’s quality timber is being processed into stately coffins and other works of art in other developed countries.

Although Ghana’s foreign income on timber soared above 10% in the early 2000s, this figure fell drastically to 1.3% by 2011.

Ghana still risks losing some of its prime timber and wood species to extinction, through many of the activities of illegal timber felling. At the moment, giant hardwoods are hard to come by because of the many indiscriminate activities of chain saw operators, who do not make the effort to make replacements.

For some time, the country was replete with different varieties of hardwood, which were accessible to timber operators. But now, it has been found that the species are quickly disappearing, owing that the country only has sparse rainforests which contain these woods.

The timber and wood industry still need the strong supports of government, to curtail the activities of illegal tree cutting.

Throwing in the towel

Today more than 70,000 workers in the timber and wood industries are said to have lost their jobs, owing to the various challenges faced in the industry. They too have had to come to terms the problems relating to running business, aside the indiscriminate felling of trees.

Workers in the timber and wood industry have complained bitterly about power challenges in carrying out their duties. Ghana has had its share of power challenges, and wood workers have suffered the detriments of not having stable power to carry out preparation of wood and other processes, for export.

Meanwhile, others workers in the wood industry are having struggles in maintaining the plants for wood processing. Not having abundant funding to keep the plants running can be a problem, because the needs of the worksites expand with time, while special machinery may need to be acquired for effective wood processing.  

Resurfacing hopes

The United States is the biggest market for all the country’s rotary veneers and lumber exports.

Forests are said to cover one-third of Ghana’s total area, which only spells the vastness of our forest cover. The country depends much on timber as one of its major foreign exchange reserves, earning about €98.50 million (ITTO 2015) through timber export in 2014. The country’s total export volume of timber to the European Union, where much of the timber goes, is said to be around 45.04%

Steadily, it looks like timber and wood are making progress.

 A 2015 report from the Timber Industry Development Division (TDD) of the Forestry Commission say that, exports for the first five months of 2015 was worth €72.74 million, compared to the €46.77 million within the same months, in 2014.

The Forestry Commission has reports that in the month February in 2016, the country’s wood exports yielded €17,273,518.48 in value from the export volume of 31,465.073m3. This shows a strong increase in value of 28.64% when compared to the €13,428,202.58 secured from exports at a volume of 25,422.448m3, which was documented in February 2015.

Ghana’s wood base is much sought after by many of the developed countries in Europe, apart from the United States, and in other Asian and African countries that show great interest in the quality of the country’s timber and wood products. High demands are placed on both raw timber and finished products as plywood, veneers, dried lumbers and boules.

Protecting the remnants

The 2015 and 2016 reports from the Forestry Commission bring some hope to Ghana’s timber and wood industry.

While this growth does not necessarily reflect that deforestation is slowing down, it’s largely because there are not sufficient laws to curb illegal and even legal chain saw operators. Where operators are operating legally, there obviously must be some limits and requirements.

 Rain forests are said to be so abundant in Brazil that, they cover almost 60% of the enter area of the country at 477,698,000 hectares, which is equal to almost 3 million square kilometers. But the country with the most rain forests also risked losing a vast portion of its forest, but was quick to intervene and introduce laws and sanctions.

The Forest Resource Management Project through the Economic Recovery Program (ERP) was introduced in 1988, and by 1989, government had started banning log exports, since then there have not been stringent laws to totally curb deforestation.

The Forestry Commission Act 1999 (571) seeks to protect the forests from loss, but does not seek to protect Non Timber Forest Products (NTFP) from destruction.

Not ignoring the economic advantages of our forests, little to no replacement of felled trees is gradually leading to environmental issues and worse human effects. Weather conditions are fast determined by the presence and absence of trees, and while food sustainability largely depends on the climate, human lives are endangered- hunger could be imminent when such indiscriminate practices are not controlled.

Meanwhile the country’s forest challenges has long rested with economic and domestic needs of the people,  and the country has long been in discussion with stakeholders, on various ways of handling deforestation. While many afforestation projects have been undertaken by some civil society groups, not much is achieved because laws are still not strong enough to control the activities of chainsaw operators.

Still moving up and down the decision ladder, there are strong concerns about salvaging one of our greatest national income earner- timber and wood. As this industry is fast dwindling, quick decisions and implementations must be made and carried out.

New attitudes must be adopted by the coming generation who would largely depend on the remnants of our depleted forests, for both national income and other vital uses. Afforestation cannot be neglected but should be adopted among the important social policies we have.

In the future, people may look back and wonder how the forests have gradually disappeared; not giving much thought on the need to replace forest trees felled for domestic and economic purposes. The serious implications of forest loss may be imminent.