The cost of not saving our forest reserves is deadly

Mon, 22 Feb 2021 Source: Kwabena Adu Koranteng

A business and financial journalist, Kwabena Adu Koranteng has revealed that Ghana’s forest reserves are fast depleting due to the increasing activities of mining companies and illegal mining operators.

the effort by the government of Ghana to curb the activities of miners operating in the forest reserves through the Anti Galamsey Force established against illegal mining has yielded little results due to the alleged involvement of some security personnel in protecting these illegal miners in some forest areas like Manso Adubia, Tontokrom, Manso Nkwanta in the Amansie East and Amansie South Districts of the Ashanti Region.

The Atiwa Forest Reserve, for instance, regarded as the largest forest reserve in West Africa has become vulnerable to some mining activities and is on the verge of destruction.

Food and Agriculture Organization's 2016 State of the Forests report revealed that 7 million hectares of forest are lost annually while agricultural land expands by 6 million.

Mining activities give rise to severe water pollution and mining concessions in recent years encroach upon forest reserves.

About 60 per cent of Ghana’s water bodies are polluted, with many in critical condition, the Water Resources Commission (WRC) has said. Mr. Ben Ampomah, Executive Secretary of the Commission at a workshop in Ho, said the polluted water bodies were mostly in the south-western parts of the country, where illegal mining activities (galamsey) were widespread...Mr. Ampomah said apart from illegal mining, industrial waste, household disposals and farming, were the major causes of water pollution in the country...

The importance of forest and forest resources are enormous. Forests and trees have significantly supported the survival of mankind, biodiversity and ecosystem services. Forest resources have been a source of food, medicine, etc. for billions of the world’s population. For those who live in forest and savannah areas, about 250 million of them depend on forests and trees for their livelihood and food security.

From 2000 to 2015, evidence from the 2018 Sustainable Development Report shows that the Earth’s forest areas shrunk by 100 million hectares. In addition, from 2015 to 2016, the financial support for biodiversity in the form of bilateral official development assistance (ODA) fell by 21%.

In Ghana, there are two main types of forest reserves, namely the production forest reserves and protected forest reserves. The former constitutes about 80% of total forest reserves, and it is mainly exploited and used as timber.

The latter constitutes about 20% of total forest reserves which is kept for conservation purposes. In terms of depletion, Hawthorne and Musah (1993) have reported that about 50% of reserved forests are “either mostly degraded or in worse conditions”. Against this background, the government of Ghana through policy instruments has demonstrated commitment towards ensuring that the forests are protected. For instance, in 1994, Ghana launched the Forest and Wildlife Policy document as a replacement of the Forest Policy of 1948.

Subsequently, the government through the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources launched the 2012 Ghana Forest and Wildlife Policy as a replacement of the 1994 Forest and Wildlife Policy.

In addition, in 1999, the Forest Plantation Development Fund was established to support the private sector with funding for commercial forest plantation investment. In 2002, the public sector was included in forest plantation development. A year before this amendment (2001), the National Forest Plantation Development Programme (NFPDP) was launched. This was launched in 2010 with the aim of promoting tree planting of about 30,000 ha per year in all administrative municipals of Ghana.

In spite of the local, national, regional and international efforts towards preserving Ghana’s forest resources it is estimated that net forest depletion which was valued at US$1.578 bn in 2010 has risen to US$3.134 bn in 2017 (World Bank, 2019). This shows a net forest depletion of over 98% from 2010 to 2017. In line with meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, this trend provides a worrying situation that needs urgent attention.

This study, therefore, seeks to provide empirical evidence of the depletion for specific forests as well as unveiling its perceived driver intensities.

During the early 1900s, Ghana's natural forest covered a third of the country's land area Over-exploitation of timber prompted the colonial government to reserve some portions of the natural forest from the 1920s to the 1940s. This was done mainly to limit timber exploitation to outside the forest reserves. The country has over 256 forest and nature reserves for sustainable production and protection purposes. Deforestation in Ghana, including in forest reserves, continued to increase even after the reservation of the forests.

By 1989, about 80% of the forest had been converted to other land uses Ghana recorded annual deforestation rates of 0.7%, 0.5%, 0.4%, and 0.6% for the periods 1990–2000, 2000–2005, 2005–2010 and 2010–2015 respectively (annual deforestation rate = total deforestation for a period/period of deforestation and various studies have demonstrated similar trends especially within Ghana's forest reserves. The forest reserves were created to protect the remaining biological diversity for continual flow of environmental benefits, yet deforestation continues in most reserves.

Deforestation in Ghana is attributed to overexploitation of natural resources through illegal and unsustainable logging and mining, and agricultural expansion, coupled with land tenure insecurity Most of these causes have been identified in studies utilizing interviews with forestry officials and residents of forest fringe communities, However, these findings do not have spatial attributes and they reveal subjective opinions of respondents. The extent of deforestation over a period cannot be known without spatially analyzing land cover changes within the reserves.

Land cover change studies are available mostly for the western and eastern regions of Ghana, Almost 23% of the country's forest reserves (3785 km2) are located in the Ashanti region, making the region the second-largest host of forest reserves in Ghana The forest reserves in the region also have the most fringe communities in the country some of whom depend on the forests for their livelihoods.

Mapping the extent and trend of forest cover loss in forest reserves in the Ashanti region will provide insight into what management strategies could apply to which reserves in order to reduce deforestation and sustain the remaining forests while not depriving the dwellers of their livelihoods. We define deforestation, the focus of this study, as the replacement of forest cover with other land covers such as agriculture.

Columnist: Kwabena Adu Koranteng