Ghanaian environmental groups say action rather than words is what they want from the government in protecting the environment and preserving forest resources.
Ghana’s economic growth and infrastructural development have come at a huge cost to its forests as they continue to face pressure from mining, illegal logging, wildfires, and wood fuel harvesting.
Currently, the country’s forest cover is said to be around 1.6 million hectares down from 8.2 million hectares in the 1900s according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). With an estimated 3% annual loss of forest cover since 2000, the future of Ghana’s forests appears bleak.
The government, in an attempt to remedy the situation, has joined the league of over 100 countries across the world to challenge itself to end deforestation by 2030 in one of the major deals agreed at the global climate conference, COP26 in Glasgow.
Together with other developing countries, it will benefit from a $19bn fund pledged towards the restoration of damaged lands and tackling wildfires.
To the government, the pledge confirms its commitment to protecting the country’s forest resources but some environmental organisations say they want more than that.
Pointing to the government’s insistence on opening up the cherished 23,000-hectare Atewa forest, which is home to some rare ecological populations for commercial bauxite mining, Arocha Ghana’s deputy director, Daryl Bosu says the government’s stance is inconsistent with its action back home.
“We are cautiously optimistic about this pact and really need to see certain actions like a ban on mining in protected forest reserves to be convinced that the Ghanaian leadership is committed to addressing the problem of deforestation,” he tells The Africa Report.
For President Akufo-Addo, such mineral exploitation activities are a necessary evil for the country’s development.
In his speech at the conference, he called for a balance between mineral resources extraction and protecting the environment, describing as unfair the demand on African countries to abandon exploitation of resources for the sake of climate when the continent’s contribution to climate change is far below the levels in developed countries.
“It would be wholly unfair for the world to demand that Africa abandons the exploitation of these same resources needed to finance her development, and help us to cope better with the threat of climate change, at a time when many countries on the continent have only just discovered them… We believe that a balance must be struck and maintained between our social, economic and environmental imperatives,” he stated.
Ghana cannot afford such a stance says Bosu, because it will be too expensive a risk as the long history of mining has not resulted in any major developments.
Signing the agreement is the easiest decision according to the Ghana Youth Environmental Movement but it offers the government another chance to prove its commitment.
The deforestation problem
“The government hasn’t shown any serious and strong commitment to addressing deforestation back home. The 2018 Global Forest Watch report indicated we were losing our primary rainforest at an alarming rate. There is the challenge of rosewood and shea trees being illegally harvested in the northern parts of the country,” says the movement’s founder, Gideon Commey.
“Atewa forest is an indication of government’s reluctance to commit to protecting forests, nature and biodiversity but signing unto the agreement is a great chance for our government to address its failures and I hope it happens,” he tells The Africa Report.
Between 2002 and 2020, the government – through a National Forest Plantation Development Programme and a Ghana Forest Plantation Strategy – established 588,000 hectares of plantations and made efforts to reclaim some 7.6 million hectares of farmlands and forests.
Under the REDD+ framework, Ghana’s forestry commission has been working over the past decade to significantly reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation but the challenge remains the people whose livelihoods depend on deforestation.
“It is very possible for us to end deforestation by 2030 and we will achieve this collectively,” says the director of Climate Change at the Forestry Commission, Roselyn Adjei.
She adds that the commission is taking up the challenge of providing alternative livelihoods for the many young people who live off deforestation.
“Deforestation and forest degradation are livelihood options. You cannot tackle them without providing commensurate livelihood options so if people have to keep off forests it means we have to provide sustainable alternatives,” she adds.
Already, a ‘Green Ghana’ initiative launched by the government in July 2021 to annually provide free seedlings to all interested persons for planting is expected to work some magic by increasing the country’s tree and forest cover in the next few years.
“Our forest cover is depleting as a result of galamsey and harvesting of trees for different purposes. The aim of Green Ghana is to save us now and our future generations. We can’t fail our future leaders,” Lands and Natural Resources Minister, Samuel Abu Jinapor told AFP, in June 2021.
Time is running out for the Ghanaian government on preserving its forest resources as informal small-scale mining and indiscriminate felling of trees continue aggressively in some of the country’s protected forest areas.
CSOs blame the lack of strong political will and poor strategies for the government’s failures in tackling the problem but are hoping for stronger actions post-COP26 to save the country’s forests.
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