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Feature Article of Saturday, 27 October 2012

Columnist: Berko, George

The Time To Mourn For Our Forests ...

....Has Unfortunately Arrived!!! We Failed Ghana!!!!

I am terribly shocked and disgusted to hear per an Article on Ghanaweb.com, dated October 24, 2012 that an Official of the Forestry Commission, Mr. Alhassan N. Attah, is admitting a near total loss of all our top Classes Economic Species. He specifically mentioned Odum, Wawa and Sapele as having been almost all gone. This is a day that many patriotic vanguards of our Natural Resources have long dreaded about our Forests. The announcement is an indictment of the Forestry Commission, and the Parliament must immediately follow up on it to verify what the real status of our Forest Inventory is.

The same Official, Alhassan N. Attah, is said to have commended the move to IMPORT!!!!! Timber from Cameroon to meet our domestic needs? What a bombshell of an admission of SHAMELESS FAILURE!!! Our ancestors would be turning over in their graves to hear this. While the Official may be only the messenger conveying to us the sad News of the demise of Ghana's Timber Resources, I cannot help exhibiting my utter vexation even with him that my greatest fears for the past 20 years have really come to be a reality in my lifetime and he is the one delivering the News.

This goes to prove that all the expert and candid pieces of advice that many gave the Government of Ghana and the Forestry Commission, in particular, were never taken seriously. I am almost drawn to tears!!! It plainly indicates my grandchildren may never have the luxury of enjoying the wide array and availability of quality wood from their own backyard as I grew up to enjoy, all because we allowed a few crooked Citizens to avariciously rape our Forest with impunity. The Forestry Commission has failed us. But, more frighteningly, we may also take this as the vital sign of a Nation losing all its Natural Resources in half a Century without a commensurate advancement in the lives of its Citizens or an alternative sustainable source of Economic life-blood.

The use of the Population explosion in Ghana, by the Official, as an excuse for the wanton destruction of our Forests is even more excruciatingly painful to hear. What a cup-out!!! We all know what the real cause of the precipitous loss of our Timber is. The Official must not take us for fools and patronize us with any charade of an excuse.

Darn it!! Folks, the projection of Future Consumption of Wood had long been worked into the measures that had been suggested for arresting the destruction by dedicated patriotic experts like Professor J.G.K. Owusu of KNUST and School of Forestry fame. If those measures had been, even minimally, implemented, our Species, as mentioned, here would still be in adequate sustainable supply today. I said it before that we had been very complacent with our Forest Estates and Resources because we have been thinking everything that we had done little to nothing to create but are available for our almost free utilization didn't need much of our attention and monitoring. This is what we get for being that negligent. It is a page in our indicting book of Absence of a Maintenance Culture in our System. Don't we know there is a certain moral imperative that we ought to manage sensibly our Natural Resources that we have been endowed with because they don't belong to only us but also to our Posterity? Where are the Churches and the Mosques on this? We allowed the Politicians and their greedy Timber-Merchant cronies dictate the implementation of our Forest Policies and Laws and that is what has brought us to this point. Our Law Enforcement failures in that regard also contributed to the inevitable.

Arise, the Youths of Ghana!! Your Future is being wiped out by these insensitive leaders in front of your eyes. Let the Student Unions take note and send a powerful message to the Parliament and the Executive that the status quo is unacceptable with our Natural Resources, especially our Forest Estates. Let the critics call our demands Eco-Nationalism or some adverse reaction to Capitalism. That would be only a loquacious lie to the umpteenth degree. A total ‘BS’. If we really care for Capitalism, Management that sustains our Natural Resources would rather be our choice of action. Capitalism implies having a sustained supply of a necessary commodity. So, let those fatuously mendacious con-men run their slippery tongues!! But we have had enough of their deceptive spins. If only we had been more caring of one another, if only we had been more mindful of the predictable consequences we had been alerted to by the experts, if only we had been a little more truthful to our Constituents, we would not be lamenting over the lost trees today. This is not a situation of hindsight being 20/20. We had been warned. We simply didn’t care enough. Now, we are going to dwell on Wood Imports from where? May the wrath of Providence visit on anyone who denies that our predicament with the Trees has more to do with simple greed than anything else, even as some with genuine financial compulsion to join the loot were caught in the middle. Yes, we had the desperate unemployed Chainsaw-totting Youths resorting to encroachment of the Forests to steal the Wood, much to our chagrin. But our leaders did almost nothing to avert or mitigate their presence in that area of Economic endeavor. Our Forest Laws were grossly disrespected as these lads had their way in helping to destroy our Forests. They chose the very species that the Forestry Commission spokesperson cited for near extinction as their Wood of choice to hunt and take out, irrespective of the size or age of the trees or their immediate Ecosystems (niches, if you will). Our Law Enforcement Personnel were ill-equipped to handle these audacious tree robbers many of whom were reported armed. Our Judiciary either would, contemptuously, not hear the pleas of the lowly Forest Officer leading the Prosecution because the State didn’t have special Prosecutors knowledgeable enough in our Forest Ordinances to do that job; or, the Judges would be in cahoot with the much wealthier Timber Merchants who might dig deep into their pockets to help the Judges live a little more comfortable as befitting their Social status; or, the much frustrated Forest Officer in the field who must have experienced various shocking contempt encounters with his or her bosses and the Judiciary just gave up and even turned coats to accept few bribes from the perpetrators to allow the misdeed occur. Couldn’t any of these have been pre-empted, or at least, mitigated enough? Obviously, we did not do either. So, we do not have any excuse. None of the above Institutions implicated deserves a slack. The robes of our Judges have been stripped by this gloomy announcement, even if temporarily. And let no one call it a mere bashing of the hitherto sacrosanct Judiciary. I have no apologies to give any Institution that can be proven to have relapsed, after some years of radiant rebirth from the Kalabule days, to help precipitate this calamity upon us. The blame could go quite far and widely but the bus stops with our Leaders in Government, in Parliament, the Judiciary and the Executive. In short, we have all let Ghana down, but my first target of criticism would be the Forestry Commission. That Institution has been the embodiment of Ghana’s Forest Interests. It has been the Official liaison between the owners of the Forests, and the Exploiters. It has been the very Authority and organ that had to direct how our Forest Estates had to be managed, and who should be allowed to extract the Forest Produce and what quantities of the various Species that had to be taken out at any particular period. Therefore, the Forest Commission has to bear the most blame for our current Forest predicament, and I call upon the Parliament to, vigorously, ‘summon and frisk’ it for practical immediate answers to change the situation.

The entire Ghanaian Population must play a role in that regard. We must all put in our maximum effort to seek for solutions and reclaim our lost Trees and Forests. Wake up Ghana!! Wake up all Youths of Ghana!! Let your voices be heard! By Gosh!!! Don't our leaders know any shame? Let our Elementary and Secondary Schools all get involved and cry their hearts out to demand immediate remedial measures to correct the situation. It is their future, too. Let all our Mothers and Fathers howl, whine and yell for us, the younger ones, to clean our mess, and to ensure we leave the land for our Posterity with no less Resources than we came to meet it. Let the Students of Higher Learning, in our Secondary Schools, Universities and Polytechnics join the fight, in real time and now, to demand that our Government jumps into action on this issue without any delay. We must immediately put a Moratorium on all Exports of Timber. Employment in the Timber Industries could still be saved if we force the Wood to be processed locally and the best methods of processing are stringently enforced. We should zone in on the whole Timber Industry to thoroughly investigate and flush out those operators flouting our Forest Laws. Meanwhile, we MUST immediately place a Moratorium upon Exportation of Timber.

Lastly, we should stop all Importation of Wood from Cameroons or anywhere else. That would force us to use the little Wood we have left more wisely by expanding the utilization of the lesser-known Species that are still in greater abundance, and simultaneously taking the pressure off the top Class Species that are now endangered to let them regenerate. A total ban on the extraction of certain Species may have to be considered, until and unless we know adequate saplings of the same are, aggressively, growing to take the place of those removed. We should compel Concessionaires to grow replacement saplings, in situ, for the Trees they remove and contribute to a Fund they can help monitor for raising and nurturing the young trees to maturity.

Yes, I hear the distant screams of adding to the pressure of demand of Wood if we stopped the Importation of Wood. Well, we would have to poke the ribs of the Wood processing Plants to modernize and use more of the various parts of the Trees felled and their leftover pieces, usually left to rot, for chips and other forms of structural products in place of the uniform lumber. That would even spur our Economic Growth.

If it has happened with our Forests now, what other Natural Resource would be next and when should we expect to hear the Official announcement of its depletion? Would it be our Water Resource? Our Minerals, which we know are physically exhaustible, are even still available in Commercial quantities. How come, then, we could not manage well our Economic Trees that are renewable to give us any sensible rate of sustainability? We have almost reduced our Wood Supply to a finite commodity. Incredible!!! Our neighbors in Togo and the Ivory Coast are perhaps screaming, too, “Incroyable!” in French, but only happily to the bank to cash in on the account of filling the void we have foolishly created.

Such massive Institutional failure, as the Forestry Commission has admitted to, has exposed us to the ridicule of the World at large. Our vociferous bragging about leading Africa in this or that towards achieving a Middle-Class Nation status has now been exposed to be nothing but a hollow, sonorous disturbance in the ears of the World. Nothing but a pointless, useless noise!!

Shame, shame, shame unto us all!!! This is a very, very sad day for Ghana!!! And no one should make light of the ultimate consequences. I may sound incoherent, here. Please, forgive me. I am very upset.

Nevertheless for the sake of our young and Posterity, we need to act now, and for them, I'd still like to end this piece as usual with:

Long Live Ghana!!!

G. K. Berko. (New Hampshire, USA).

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