Foresters angry over obstructions …17 checkpoints from Peki to Nsawam

Some foresters have expressed disgust over impediments being put in their way by officials of the Forestry Commission, the police and other law enforcement agencies when conveying lumber from their plantations and sawmills to the markets.

They complain of being constantly harassed and their truckloads of certified lumber impounded by these officials when they are transporting them to various markets.

“Why is it that those of us who legally do it will not be allowed to process our logs and sell  them? Why must there be so many impediments? Seventeen check-points – Customs, Forestry, and police officers – when transporting lumber from Peki to Nsawam. This must stop.  So we are calling on all people of this country who want the best for the country to speak up to protect our reserves and protect our natural resources,” said a Director at Vision 2050 Forests, Mr. Abdulai Omaru Sulley, while expressing his frustration to the media.

He indicated that the posture of the forestry officials could drive away potential private investors from the forestry industry.

Mr. Sulley argues that such hurdles continue to hold the foresters back, and discourages them from bringing in financiers to invest in the sector.

“It took us two days to transfer logs from Peki to our sawmill at Nsawam; and from one of our plantations in Kajebi, it took the trucks two weeks to get to the sawmill. Now, if this is the situation in our country, which private investor – especially a foreign  one – will want to put his money in such an industry?” he queried.

His anger followed the seizure of his truckload of lumber by officials of the Forestry Commission at their Nsawam post, with the reason that he did not acquire a Domestic Lumber Inspection Certificate which permits him to ply the road from source to the market.

Mr. Sulley said: “If you look at the situation critically, people who are harvesting from the natural forests can transfer their logs without any problem, while those of doing it legally are rather suffering”.

He added, “Our forests are finished because the reserves and natural forest are where most of them are harvesting from. So, should we not encourage people to harvest from their plantations and invest more”?

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He called on all stakeholders and government in particular to speak up to protect our reserves and our natural resources.

He threatened that his company will have no option but to go to court to seek redress if this continues.

The Ministry of Lands & Natural Resources, through its agencies – especially the Forestry Commission, must be at the forefront in restoring the country’s forests, Sulley stated.

This, he said, will mean that the legal framework must be amended to allow for more private participation.

“The Forestry Commission must divert its attention from granting exploitation licences, permits and conveyance certificates to growing and preserving our forests.

“It must confront illegal logging seriously, because this threatens our livelihood and existence. Deforestation is changing our weather pattern, drying-up our rivers and reducing agricultural output.”

VTF’s major concern is: about 98% of lumber in our markets is illegal – how do the perpetrators cross all the security and forestry checkpoints without arrests? We are all at risk, he said.

Investment into plantations

Vision 2050 Forestry has invested US$120million to grow 200 million trees nationwide, and would like to thin-out 5% from each plantation in the community every year.

The company has also engaged 300,000 farm managers in 850 communities across the country to oversee its planted trees. In the past 20 years, funding for the projects has been privately sourced.

Illegal chainsaw business

Illegal chainsaw milling (CSM) has become one of the main forest governance issues in Ghana. Although it was outlawed in 1998, it continues to be the major supplier of lumber to the domestic market.

In effect, the ban has rather worsened the situation – putting more pressure on the timber resources and increasing the conflict among forestry stakeholders.  Recent research estimates that illegal chainsaw operators fell more than 800,000 tress in a year (i.e. 2.4 million m’), exceeding the annual allowable cut of 2 million m’ of the ‘official’ industry. This adds up to a total annual harvest level of about 4.4million m’ – far beyond the sustainable level for forest resources.

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 forest to agricultural land use.

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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 national investments in logging equipment to service national deficit of wood-based exports. Consequently, Ghana’s forests were put under excessive exploitation; illegal harvesting was rampant and there was neglect of established harvesting procedures in the mid-1990s. In addition, forestry institutions became demoralised 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 government and private entities. However, the policy did not produce expected effects, as strategies were not developed by which the objectives of this policy could be realized. In addition, 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 implementation of the 1994 policy.

In June 2009, the government of Ghana ratified the signed voluntary partnership agreements with the European Union to control illegal logging.

The agreement enforces the requirement for communities to provide written consent before logging takes place on their land. It also commits Ghana to a participatory review of forest policy, regulation and intuitions. Environmental associations reacted with cautious hope. They acknowledged it as a timely international initiative that could support the national drive for reform and increased transparency.

Due to the implementation failure of previous policies and regulations, they however emphasised  quickly moving from print to practice. Also, though this approach might hinder illegal logging activities for timber export, it is doubtful if it also prevented illegal logging for the huge domestic timber demand.

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