Tuesday, March 1, 2011

International Year of Forests: Focus on Ghana’s Forests

“Man is preceded by forest and followed by desert” – French Proverb.

Fifty-four (54) years ago, Ghana gained independence from British colonial rule. Each year, huge amounts of money are spent to celebrate our independence anniversaries, including the famous “Ghana@50”. After Ghana@50, a probe was set up to investigate how those monies were managed. That’s great! I wish that Ghanaians start taking keen interest in probing how we have managed the various sectors of our country. How we have managed our natural resources should engage our attention at the highest level. Ghana is well endowed with several natural resources including tropical rainforests, which has been a major source of revenue for the country. Ghana’s forests have influenced its climate, soil and water resources which have supported Ghana’s agricultural sector, the backbone of the country’s economy. Cocoa, which has been so central to Ghana’s development, has been influenced by the forest’s micro-climate.

With such a critical role being played by forests, it just stands to reason that more effort will be channelled into making this resource sustainable and stay in good shape. However, sustainable management of Ghana’s forest has been a major issue for successive governments since colonial times. Available records indicate that at the beginning of the last century, a third of Ghana’s total land area of 238,540 squared kilometres was covered by high forest whiles the remaining land was covered by savanna woodland (Antwi, 1999). Unfortunately, this forest cover has seen rapid depletion in the last 100 years; especially in the last 50 years where sustainable forest management is being trumpeted everywhere.

One cannot think of achieving sustainable forest management without policies to guide decision making on the use of the resource and legislation to provide legal backing to those policies (Owusu, 1999); and that is an area Ghana is not new to. As early as 1908, a report on Ghana’s forests was presented to the colonial government by H.N. Thompson in which he recommended establishment of a Forestry Department; creation of forest reserves; and some regulation of timber felling and exports. Thompson’s report formed the basis for the colonial government’s forest policy. After the recommendations from Thompson, there has been several interventions in the form of ordinances, policies and legislation all aimed at regulating activities in the forest sector but little seems to have been achieved. Some have attributed the reduction of Ghana’s forest to the failure of Ghana's Forestry policies and strategies to ensure that forest resources were managed on economically viable, socially beneficial and environmentally sound principles.

This year, 2011, is the United Nations’ International Year of Forests, under the theme: “Celebrating Forests for People”. Let’s throw more light on Ghana’s forests. Ghana is having a fair share of global environmental problems: change in weather patterns; recurrent droughts severely affecting agricultural activities; flooding; soil erosion; habitat destruction which is threatening biodiversity; water pollution; decreasing river discharge and inadequate supplies of potable water. How does the disappearance of our forests fit into this puzzle? What should be done to sustainably manage our forests?

“The forest will answer you in the way you call to it” – Finnish Proverb.

Antwi, L. B., (1999). What we have: Our Forest Heritage. Proceedings, Workshop for Media Personnel on Forestry and Wildlife Reporting. IRNR-UST, 6-11 June 1999.
Owusu, J. G. K., (1999). Policies and Legislation concerning Forests, Forestry and Wildlife. Proceedings, Workshop for Media Personnel on Forestry and Wildlife Reporting. IRNR-UST, 6-11 June 1999.


  1. A sustainable forest is a forest that is properly managed (replanting of felled trees) to provide long term benefits to people, society and the nation at large. The effects of deforestation and climate change cannot be unnoticed; the effects are already visible in many parts of Ghana where prolonged water shortage and drought remain an issue of concern. Apart from timber, the forest is an important environment for the generation of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) including food, materials for crafts, medicine which contributes to the livelihood conditions of local people. Forests are also important for the generation of ecosystem services to ensure the safety of wildlife and for leisure and recreation.

    Sustainable forests can only survive if they are integrated into agro-forestry systems, make a profit and provide employment for the local people. Forests can be integrated into production systems through multiple intercropping; cocoa and other food crops can be grown as under-storey crops. In this intercropping system, disease and pests incidence can be minimized when some crops serve as attractants for beneficial insects and others serve as repellent for harmful ones, there are facilitation benefits such as trees canopy modifying the micro-climate environment of the crops through reduced evapotranspiration, tree roots serving as water and nutrients pumps for the shallow rooted crops etc. Improved yields hence, profits by farmers can be guaranteed because there is a diversified cropping system. The type of employment available in a sustainable forest will include work related directly to managing and maintaining the forests, but also jobs related to the tourist industry such as kakum.

    Sustainable forests, carbon and climate change need policy measures so that forests continue to exist providing natural materials for us and preserving the natural environment. Such policies include biomass energy to control atmospheric CO2, an increase in the recovery of used wood and fibre, technologies to significantly reduce energy consumption, increase the use of recycled paper and many more.

    Ir Somuah (MSc. Plant Sciences; Natural Resources Management)

  2. Rita,
    Thanks very much for your comments. IITA has been implementing a programme known as Sustainable Tree Crop Programme (STCP) in some parts of Ghana and their aims are not different from what you have stated here. Your last paragraph really makes interesting reading!


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