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Opinions of Monday, 30 August 2021

Columnist: K B Oppong

The Green Ghana project vs charcoal and firewood industry

Lands and Natural Resources Minister, Samuel Abu Jinapor Lands and Natural Resources Minister, Samuel Abu Jinapor

On 9th August 2021, the United Nations IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) issued its report which paints a very gloomy picture of the harm we humans have and are doing to the planet we live on.

It summarises that “human activities ‘unequivocally’ is causing climate change” and it provides an update on the physical science basis of climate change and confirms that there is no going back from some changes that are already affecting the climate system”. (unfccc.int)

The report further states that recent changes in the climate are affecting every region on Earth including the oceans. Many climate and weather extremes such as heatwaves, heavy rainfall, droughts, and tropical cyclones have become more frequent and severe.

It was heart-wrenching listening to the news on 12th August of dozens of people dead from wildfires in Algeria and dozens also dead from floods in the Niger Republic.

The UN is consequently calling on countries to submit their new or updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), embodying the efforts and actions of each country to respond to climate change and reduce emissions.

It was therefore reassuring that Ghana has started its contribution to the fight against climate change by planting 5 million trees in July 2021 under the Green Ghana Project.

Why has this become necessary in Ghana?

From 2002 to 2020 Ghana lost 101sqkm of the humid primary forest making up 8% of the country’s tree cover. There are several causes for this situation including fast-growing population, shifting agriculture, commodity-driven deforestation, and the need for fuel for cooking in the form of Charcoal and firewood (globalforestwatch.org/GHA). The devastating effect of the charcoal and firewood industry is seen very much in the north of Ghana and on the Accra plains.

Driving around in the North through Savana to Upper East and West one can see topsoil from afar, no trees, no grass. The soil is exposed and parched which are obvious signs of desertification. In such situations, rainwater runs off the surface eroding fertile topsoil.

Groundwater is also affected because trees or vegetation cover ensures water seeps into underground wells.

No wonder there are no grazing grounds in the north so herdsmen are bringing their cattle down south causing conflict with local people. This latter situation is putting severe strains on the unity of Nigeria as a country. This method of cattle rearing has seen no change in this part of Africa since biblical times.

It is primitive and economically not feasible. It is still practiced simply because it exploits the herdsmen and destroys the land at no cost to the owners. That will be another time. For this article, I will concentrate on Charcoal and firewood.

The Charcoal and firewood industry in Ghana

The industry is very big in many areas especially the Savana region. Recently it has been reported that the charcoal producers have run out of trees and are felling shea butter trees.

The Savana regional house of chiefs has had cause to stop the production and export of charcoal from their lands. Driving on the Accra – Aflao road it is hard to see any standing trees bigger than the arm of a two-year-old child. Almost everything is gone and the land is nearly bare.

Ghana’s population has risen from 6million at independence to 30 million or more now but still using the same land resources that were available. So the negative impact on the land is going to get worse in the future from these activities.

One can therefore conclude that as good as the green Ghana project is in the regeneration of our forest areas, it is most likely that 5 million trees a year cannot even replace what is lost yearly by the firewood and charcoal industry unless steps are taken to reduce their production.

Let us curtail the use of charcoal and firewood in Ghana.
One way of doing that is to curtail the size of the market. In my opinion, there is no reason for people living in big southern cities like Accra, Kumasi, Cape Coast, Takoradi, etc to continue to use firewood and charcoal for fuel for cooking. Ghana is now blessed with gas in the cities and with education and restrictions, more people can switch from wood and charcoal to gas.

Large institutions e.g. schools, chop bars, etc can all be made to use gas. The traditional wayside food joints e.g. kenkey, banku, konkonte, fried plantain etc. can be helped by asking KNUST to design and build more robust gas cooking stoves for their purposes. Then there can be laws to ban the use of firewood and charcoal in the cities.

Some Progressive African countries e.g. Kenya, have taken this initiative and Ghana must go that way too. The success of the green Ghana project will be limited unless it is liked up with the banning of firewood and charcoal in the urban areas where cooking gas is readily available.

We can gradually increase the area of coverage of the ban as the gas supply is made available in other places, especially the north of Ghana.

We need to ensure that this important project is continued yearly and guarantee its success by all means as our contribution to the fight against climate change. All nations must be involved to save this planet for now and future generations. We can so let us start our own effort now.

Over to you Hon. Minister for Land and Natural Resources.