Saturday, October 22, 2011

Deforestation in Ghana: Government's incentives and policies

Ghana has one of the highest deforestation rates in Africa and the world, at 2% per annum. Between 1990 and 2000, Ghana lost an average of 135,000 hectares of forest per year; amounting to an average annual deforestation rate of -2% (FAO, 2007). Between 2000 and 2005, Ghana’s forests decreased by a further 115,000 hectares, with a rate of forest change of -2% per annum. In total, between 1990 and 2005, Ghana lost 26% of its forest cover, or around 1,931,000 hectares (UNEP, 2008). Measuring the total rate of habitat conversion (defined as change in forest area plus change in woodland area minus net plantation expansion) for the 1990-2005 interval, Ghana lost 27.6% of its forest and woodland habitat.

Deforestation in Ghana is primarily driven by slash and burn agriculture. Timber harvesting, wildfires, mining, and rising demand for fuelwood are also important contributors of deforestation in Ghana. In the cocoa growing regions of Ghana, which also happen to be in the forest areas, large tracts of tropical forest have been cleared to support increasing cocoa cultivation. Ghana’s economy is agricultural based with lots of income coming from cocoa exports. Currently, Ghana is the world’s second-largest producer of cocoa beans (FAO 2007). When world cocoa prices are low, Ghana’s foreign exchange earnings are significantly affected; this is often compensated for by increasing timber and mineral exports. Thus, cocoa farming is both a direct and indirect driver of deforestation (UNEP, 2008).

Government's efforts to increase investments
The Ghana government, since the 1980s, has provided generous incentives to attract investments in the mining sector and have even given mining concessions within some of Ghana’s forest reserves, eg. Afao Hills Forest Reserve (UNEP, 2008). This poses a serious threat to Ghana’s remaining forests. Over 60 per cent of the Wassa West District in western Ghana is now under concession to large-scale gold mining companies, the greatest concentration of mining in a single district in Africa (UNEP, 2008). The large footprints of these open-pit mines directly result in significant forest loss. In addition, related infrastructure and associated population growth indirectly drive even greater land cover conversion. Latest findings, according to “Africa: Atlas of Our Changing Environment” released by the United Nation’s Environment Programme in June 2008, indicate that significant portions of Wasa West’s tropical rainforest have been degraded by or lost to this gold mining boom since the 1980s. In addition to the threat from mining, shifting cultivation, uncontrolled logging, surface mining, charcoal production, and increasing population place enormous pressure on the remaining of Ghana’s tropical forests.

According to UNCCD (2002), one-third of Ghana’s land is already affected by desertification. The land is becoming increasingly arid and this is evidenced by lowered water tables, siltation of rivers, and increased flooding; rapid deforestation and poor cultivation practices are largely responsible for this (UNEP, 2008).

Deforestation in Ghana, forest policies and legislation
There is no doubt that Ghana’s forest policies, legislation and its enforcement have been a major contributing factor to the rate of deforestation in the country. Until 1994, detailed, clearly defined forest policies specifying goals, objectives and strategies for development of forest and the future direction of the timber industry were not in existence (MLF 1996), despite the 1948 forest policy. This was surely a recipe for disaster in forest management. Boateng (1994) intimates that forest degradation intensified through illegal cutting and encroachment for agricultural purposes, as a result. Due to the lack of proper policy direction on tree harvest, timber firms and concessionaires were selectively felling only preferred commercial timber species.

Another major contributor to Ghana’s deforestation has been the alienation of forest communities from policy formulation although such communities were expected to help in protecting the forests (MLF 1996). The lack of legal sanctions, and where available, it not being deterrent enough, for e.g. low fines, has encouraged illegal forest harvesting. It is therefore not surprising that in less than 50 years, Ghana’s primary rain forest has been reduced by 90% (UNEP, 2008).

MLF (1994). Forest and Wildlife Policy, Republic of Ghana, 24th November 1994. Ministry of Lands and Forestry, Accra – Ghana.

MLF (1996). Forestry Development Master Plan, 1996 – 2020. Ministry of Lands and Forestry, Accra Ghana.

UNEP 2008), “Africa: Atlas of Our Changing Environment.” Division of Early Warning and Assessment (DEWA), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Nairobi, Kenya. pp 182-187.

UNCCD (2002). Ghana Environmental Protection Agency. National Action Programme to Combat Drought and Desertifi cation. Accra, Ghana: Republic of Ghana.


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