General News of Friday, 1 July 2011
A study, described by its authors as the most comprehensive analysis of tropical forests, has disclosed that Ghana has the highest rate of deforestation, out of 65 nations, apart from Togo and Nigeria. The illegal act of felling trees has become one of the commonest offences in Ghana today, some culprits are caught by the law, the fortunate ones are never caught, while others are sometimes deliberately let go by guardians of the law.
Every day, the forest zone of the country is tampered with legally and illegally, making one wonder what would become of the nation's forest areas in the next 50 years. According to Alex Morales, a humanitarian, the study, which was published by Wood Products Trade Group, an international tropical timber organisation in Yokohama, Japan, continued that Togo lost an average of 5.75 percent of its forests a year from 2005 through 2010, while Nigeria posted a 4 percent rate and Ghana losing 2.19 percent of forests a year.
"The researchers said that the forests in the countries surveyed cover a total of 1.66 billion hectares, of which 761 million hectares constitute the "permanent forest estate," meaning it has some form of legal designation. That includes both jungles set aside for national parks and land earmarked for use by the timber industry, which is worth about $20 billion a year.
While the land may have legal designations, the laws aren't always enforced and just 53.3 million hectares - about 3 percent of the total forest - is managed "sustainably," according to the study. Of that, 30.6 million hectares is set aside for forest industries, and 22.7 million hectares protected.
Deforestation in Ghana
In Ghana, the reason behind the cutting down of trees is usually for charcoal, pasture for livestock, farms, urban or industrial purposes. The cutting down of trees, in the eyes of the law, is often considered legal or illegal, however, both the legal and illegal turnout are having a drastic effect on the nation, since they do not involve proper afforestation activities. The forest place is left bare, mostly with the notion of waiting for nature to reproduce these trees again, which takes many years - decades - to do so.
Laws are made to protect the forests from the so-called illegal tree cutters, however, the number of trees illegally cut down yearly is way beyond the number of culprits arrested, which indicates that most culprits go scot free, as the protectors of the law do not guard and enforce the law properly.
One might wonder if the term legal is always meant to protect the people, as it is these same governments that give permits to mining companies to extend their activities into forest reserves. This, in the long run, causes depletion of land and harms green plants and animals, but as it is permission from government, it is still considered legal. Both legal and illegal deforestation are taking the better half of the country's forest zones. The desperate desire of the country's leaders to bring foreign investors in the country ends up destroying the most valuable natural assets in the country.
Mining in forest reserves ends up taking away the resources of the country that are to sustain the people from generation to generation. Taking away forest reserves by mining activities, through so-called legal means, have greater adverse effects on the nation's future than the present. The 5% Gross Domestic Product (GDP) the nations is getting now, is not even enough for the creation of jobs for the youth.
The law and deforestation
In as much as the enforcement of the law is not taken seriously, the guardians of the law makes some arrested culprits scapegoats to serve as a deterrent to those involved in the illegal felling of trees. In November 2010, it was reported by the Ghanaian Times newspaper that a Takoradi Circuit Court had sentenced seven people to a total of eight years in prison for illegally felling timber in the Boin Forest Reserve near Enchi in the Western Region. According to the report, the leader of the group felled three Kusia and Makori trees each, and one Dahoma tree in the Boin Forest Reserve. He hired the six other accused persons to cart the logs, which they attempted to smuggle to La Cote d'Ivoire, but were intercepted and arrested by security personnel.
It was as well reported in May 2011 by the same newspaper that three men had been caught transporting 89 pieces of illegal lumber from Daboase to Sekondi, and have been arraigned before a Takoradi Circuit Court. The judge also directed that the 89 pieces of lumber at the Sekondi police station be confiscated to the state.
It is a good thing that the Aowin Suaman District Assembly has bye-laws which are meant to protect its forest. According to the bye-laws, 'No person shall cut down an economic tree in the District unless he first obtains a permit in writing to do so from the Aowin Suaman District Assembly (hereafter referred to as the Assembly). A permit granted under these bye-laws shall expire on the 31st December of the year in which it is granted.' It continued: 'Any person who is granted a permit under these bye-laws to cut an economic tree shall replant a tree of the same or similar stock within 30 days at the spot or in the vicinity where the tree is cut.
Moreover any person who contravenes any of these bye-laws commits an offence, and shall be liable on conviction, to a fine not exceeding GH Â¢50,000, or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding six (6) months, or both.'
These by-laws can go a long way to help the district and the nation as a whole, if it is taken and enforced seriously.
As the population of the country is rapidly increasing and the forest reserves depleting even faster, the country stands the risk of starvation, drought and unemployment in future. However, if things are handled well, the nation will be saved, and as well benefit from its forests.
According to Duncan Poore, a humanitarian, forests set aside for timber can still benefit wildlife while providing local communities with an income. He said the two best ways of protecting forests, while generating income, is through timber that is certified as being sustainably farmed, and through a programme known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD, which has been touted in United Nations climate negotiations, as a way to pay communities to protect trees.