Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Lost in the Forest: A Journey Through Ghana’s Forest Management

"A people without children would face a hopeless future; a country without trees is almost as helpless". -Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), 26th President of the USA

Ghana has a long tradition of government interventions in forest management at different times all aimed at sustainable management of Ghana’s forest estate. The effects of the many interventions have contributed in getting the country to where it is in the management of our forests. As part of my contributions to the “International Year of Forests, 2011”, I would like us to take a journey through forest management in Ghana and see where we got lost and try to find our way back.

The very first formal National Forest Policy was adopted in 1948 following the visit and Report on Forests by H. N. Thompson, Conservator of Forests in Southern Nigeria, in 1908 (Owusu, 1999). Thompson’s report convinced the government of the need to take control of the forests following a series of failed attempts by the colonial government to properly manage the forests of Gold Coast (now Ghana).

The 1948 Ghana’s Forest policy:

The key issues in the policy were;

1. to reserve sufficient forests and forest lands to supply the benefits needed by the people;
2. manage the reserved forests for sustained yield of timber;
3.conduct research to support utilization and forest management;
4. utilize resources on non-reserved forest lands fully before their liquidation by farming;
5. promote local administration of forest and educate the local people to understand the value of forest; and
6. train staff or develop Africans to higher positions.

This policy directed forestry activities in Ghana over a long period of time, until 1994 when a new policy came into being. There are interesting things to note about the implementation of the 1948 Forest Policy;

1. Among all the key issues in the 1948 policy, the colonial government and subsequent governments after independence in 1957 seem to have focused more on the exploitation of forest resources, mainly timber.
2. Promotion of local administration of forestry, for instance, received very little attention though it was seen as very crucial to the sustainable management of the forest.
3. The economic benefits of forests were actively pursued and the ecological importance was side-lined.
4. Research to support utilisation and forest management received little attention. Rather, research was focused more on economically viable tree species to be harvested for export.

The direction of this policy led to increasing emphasis on central government administration, control and ownership of the country’s forests. Local people’s involvement in forest management was not pursued as the policy had stated. According to Owusu (1999), there were an increasing marginalisation and even alienation, of local communities in the administration of forests; a trend towards forestry being practised only by foresters for the nation’s benefit; and a trend towards what some early forest researchers have called the “timberisation” of forestry. This was the state of Ghana’s forests from the post-independence period to the late 1980s.

"He who plants a tree plants a hope".– Welsh proverb


Gyampoh, B.A., (2008). “The Sustainable Forest Management puzzle: policies, legislation, deforestation and the climate change issues in Ghana”. Sustainable Forest Management in Africa Symposium, 3rd to 8th November 2008. University of Stellenbosch, South Africa.

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. Dr. Gyampoh,

    Thank you for this insight and awakening challenge on Ghana's forests. It feels great to always visit your blog to read interesting articles and issues on environment and natural resources management, that challenge researchers and policy makers to work more on environment. Keep it up and God bless you.

    Apart from timber, forests also produce Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) that contribute to livelihoods of local people. Sustainable forests management must ensure multi-purpose forest use, effective stakeholder collaboration and effective planning, policy formulation and implementation. A thorough understanding of the existing forest policy and management practices would be a good starting point to effectively contribute to the sustainable management of Ghana's forest.

    A. Community participation in forests and natural resources management. Participation:
    1. Empowers community organisations to control the use of natural resources by the local population.
    2. People have different interests in tropical forests; some assert that forests are needed to store carbon and for others, to convert forests into farmland. Therefore, information about relevant institutions, customs and political factors are equally important in assuring the overall success of multiple use forest management.

    B. Enlightened policies that recognise forests as renewable and on the other hand, acknowledge the multiple claims and influences of people on the resource. The government must be committed in implementing policies that are based on the principle of multiple use management of forests, embracing both conservation and sustainable utilisation to achieve an optimum combination of benefits from forests.

    C. Forests management plans must be updated periodically, to incorporate new information and to respond to changing environmental, ecological, social and economic circumstances.
    "A nation that destroys its soils destoys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people"....Franklin D. Roosevelt

    Rita Somuah

  2. Hi Rita,
    Thanks for your encouragement and very detailed suggestions. Keep it up.

  3. Thank you Benjamin, I hope many of our smallholder farmers in Africa will have this access to this very rich blog. Charcoal burners should also be targeted. I am sure through extensive use of ICTs, this information will reach out to as many smallholder farmers as possible. Agricultural and Environmental extension service providers will spread this good news. Best regards Benjamin!!

  4. Darlington,
    ICT is a major tool for sustainable development through knowledge generation and dissemination. It is up to us to find very innovative ways to make ICT work for us; to get the information to everybody, our small-holder farmers. I believe Agricultural and Environmental extension service providers are a major asset. But do we have enough of such extension personnel? Are they well motivated to work? Are they have given the resources to work? Are those with the resources to work even doing enough? Do our environment and agric extension personnel value the work they do? Are they appreciated for the work they do? These are critical issue. Surely, charcoal burners are a major challenge when it comes to sustainable forest management!

  5. Hi Ben,

    I am an environmental resource scientist currently working on biodiesel but also consulting from time to time on sustainability, natural resources management, human development, Environmental management systems, etc. I spent some time reading your blog today and I must say it’s a great thing you are doing. I felt I should send you these laws to give a perspective of the past attempts in Ghana to regulate our forests/ forestry sector. I hope it will help enrich your research.



    Forest Reserves Rules, 1925 (Vol.VIII, P. 889)
    Forest Reserves Regulations, 1927 (Vol. IX P. 284)
    Forest Ordinance (CAP 157) 1929
    Trees and Timber (Control of Cutting) Regulations, 1958 (LI 368)
    Timber Lands (Protected Areas) Regulations 1959 (LI 311)
    Trees and Timber (Control of Measurement) Regulations, 1960 (LI 23)
    Trees and Timber (Control of Export Logs) Regulations 1961 (LI 130)
    Regulations, 1962 (LI 229)
    Timber Royalties Regulations, 1965 (LI 495)
    Forest Protection Decree, 1974 (NRCD 243)
    Trees and Timber Decree, 1974 (NRCD 273); Timber Leases and Licences
    Forest Trees Regulations, 1976 (LI 1089)
    Timber Industry and Ghana Timber Marketing Board (Amendment) Decree, 1977 (SMCD 128)
    Forest Products Inspection Bureau Law, 1985 (PNCDL 117)
    Timber Export Development Board Law, 1985 (PNDCL 123)
    Trees and Timber (Measurement Regulations) 1985 (LI 388).
    Trees and Timber (Chain Saw operators) Regulations, 1991 (LI 368)

  6. Hi Joe,
    This is brilliant! You have enriched this discussion with the legislation perspective. Surely, I will read these laws that you have kindly given and critique them on our journey through Ghana's forest management. I hope to have more of such inputs from you. In the meantime, what is your general view of forest management in Ghana? Thanks!

  7. Hi,i got here by chance and i really appreciate what you have written. I would like to know if there are conscious efforts by government through legislations to bring communities on board in the management of forests and are they working at all?

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