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Regional News of Thursday, 10 April 2008

Source: GNA

Forestry officials express concern over illegal felling

Sunyani, April 10, GNA - Forestry officials in Brong Ahafo have expressed great concern about the increasing illegal felling of immature teak-trees in forest plantations by armed gangsters, allegedly with the active connivance of the fringe communities. They said the situation was so devastating that the regional office of the Forestry Commission had taken immediate steps to impound some forest products from various sawmills in Techiman.

Briefing newsmen on the situation on Wednesday, Mr Joe Ackah, Zonal Plantation Manager said, the teak-trees being fell formed part of trees planted under the modified taungya system, which was launched at Ayigbe, near Techiman in September, 2001 by President John Agyekum Kufuor. He said the objective of the taungya system, was to assist and encourage communities to plant the fast growing teak seedlings alongside their food crops to augment the supply of the country's natural forests, which were being degraded. The teak-trees plantations can be found mainly at Nsemire, Sawsaw and Yahaya, in Techiman Municipality. Mr Ackah said the trees were expected to be matured between 10 and 15 years adding, "But the farmers have sadly condoned with illegal operators to fell them at such a young age at very insignificant price".

Since 2002, several plantations have been established throughout the country under the modified taungya system with a 40 per cent ownership share to farmers. He said the illegal fellers were always armed with various offensive weapons including guns and operated mostly in the night on a "fell and load" system to cover their traces. "They now use axes to fell the trees instead of the machine, which they believe would give them away with its noise-making sound", Mr Ackah added. He said to help arrest the situation the Commission had met with opinion leaders, the task force, farmers and the traditional authorities in the plantations' communities and appealed to them to help protect and preserve the forests. He said the forestry officials would also be monitoring the activities of sawmills, especially those in Techiman, which were known to be the market places for the teak billets stolen from the plantations.

During the Easter festivities, forestry officials seized and impounded stolen teak billets worth more than GH¢100 million from some sawmills in Techiman. Mr Michael Kofi Benni, a Plantation Manager and Mr William Oppong, the Zonal Co-ordinator of the Government's Plantation Development Programme, both recounted situations where there have been open confrontations between forestry officials and the armed gangs.