Illegal logging cuts into Ghana's forests

“Greed should not lead us to destroy our forests,” says Abraham Ansah, an executive member of the Bunso Conservationists, an NGO.

Illegal logging, which is decimating the forests of Ghana, has been getting worse as global demand for timber grows, both in the traditional market of the United States and in the new markets of China and India.

Ansah alleges that officers of the statutory Forestry Commission have contributed to the flouting of laws by “greedy loggers”. They tend to be too sympathetic with timber contractors, thus earning the mistrust of local communities whose ecological surroundings need protection against abuse by these contractors.

“Due to the lack of firm control, there are too many illegal activities in the timber industry,” Ansah says.

“Five years ago, a study found out that there was a lot of political interference in the work of those who try to protect the country’s forests.” The study found that government officials used their power to protect private interests. “This manifests mainly in the area of resource allocation due to lack of clear guidelines,” Ansah adds.

There is also a problem with corruption. This is happening in the documentation of resources, the use of paperwork by timber contractors, the operations of timber task forces and the granting of permits.

Ansah is optimistic that the attempts by the European Union to provide certificates to ensure that only wood products from legal sources are exported to the EU will help to reduce illegal activities.

“Other countries that have become new trade destinations for our timber, such as India and China, should be made to join in the efforts to end the depletion of the country’s forests,” he says.

Ansah’s words come at a time when the Minister of Land, Forestry and Mines, Esther Obeng-Dapaah, has announced that the country’s earnings from wood exports increased from $170-million to $185-million so far this year.

The growth has increased many people’s interest in exporting wood, turning many of the country’s forests into zones of illegal logging. Wood products include dried lumber, veneer, billets and teak poles that are exported to India and the US.

While officials of the Forestry Commission say there is an agreed limit to the total amount of timber that can be taken from the forests for exporting, it is also becoming clear that the export industry cannot expand by extracting more trees. The development of the industry depends on making more efficient use of the wood that is harvested.

The Forestry Commission has accordingly put more effort into educating timber companies to minimise waste and utilising off-cuts. The commission is also encouraging value-added production for exports, including shaped and machined mouldings, flooring, furniture components, dowels and other similar items.

Unfortunately, pushed by money, illegal logging has increased. Now the authorities are battling against small-scale loggers, known as chainsaw operators, to prevent them from destroying forests all over the country.

Anani Manu, a chainsaw operator at Suhyen in the eastern region, says: “I am not breaking the law. I am simply cutting down the trees on my family’s land to sell to make a living. Should I start stealing?” Manu is supporting his wife and three children.

Officials have condemned these activities but some local NGOs have started a campaign demanding that the government lift the ban on the activities of small-time loggers.

One of these NGOs is Tropenbos International, an international forestry research group. It has called on the government to follow the example of Guyana and allow chainsaw operators to work.

But Nana Kofi Agyeman, an executive member of the Nature Conservation Group, has countered that “just because the ban on illegal logging activities have not worked, it isn’t better to lift it. It is like calling for the legislation prohibiting trade in narcotic drugs to be scrapped because some people continue to deal in drugs, in spite of the law.

“Lifting the ban would accelerate the plunder of the country’s forests and lead to further environmental degradation.”

In his view, Ghana should not be made to follow the example of Guyana because “that country has tremendous forests but Ghana, on the contrary, has an ever-dwindling resource. Obviously their system cannot be adopted here.”

Ohene-Dapaah has ordered a total ban on logging in the Buomfobiri Wildlife Sanctuary in the south-eastern part of Ghana after the Forestry Commission’s decision last year to allow teak trees to be cut down.

The area was acquired by the government to be developed into a unique ecosystem. Ohene-Dapaah is opposed to making the sanctuary available for the harvesting of timber.

It is not only illegal logging activities that are ravaging the country’s forests. Ohene-Dapaah says annual losses of revenue from mercantile timber due to wildfires run to about $24-million. “These fires cause irreversible environmental damage and hasten the process of desertification in certain areas.”—IPS



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