By Kirstie Yu
Goal Seven of the Millennium Development Goals established in 2000 is to ensure environmental sustainability. Specifically, it intends to “integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programs and reverse the loss of environmental resources” under Target 7.A. However, the alarmingly high rate of deforestation in Ghana since 1990 indicates this goal is not being achieved. The average annual deforestation rate is 1.96 percent of forest cover lost between 1990 and 2010. The highest of these deforestation rates was 2.24 percent between 2005 and 2010 (UNDP 2012, 49). This is astounding because despite new policies of re-aforestation, planting new forests for the ones that have been removed, and forest reserves creation, the rate of deforestation has continued to increase every year. This brings serious consequences to the environment, humans and wildlife that rely on the forest in order to survive. While erroneous solutions abound, proposals such as re-aforestation and the creation of forest reserves must be offset by a more useful response: a strengthening of institutions of law and order.
One key policy proposed by the National Development Programme Counsel of Ghana in its “Poverty Reduction Strategy 2003 Annual Progress Report” is re-aforestation. Re-aforestation replaces trees in areas where deforestation previously occurred. This March 2004 report noted that good progress was being made on decreasing the rate of deforestation per year from 65,000 to 50,000 hectares through the planting of new trees in degraded forest reserves (25,691 hectares), urban areas (1300 hectares), and other places such as abandoned mining areas and major riverbanks (NDPC 2004, 57). However, as of the 2010 Ghana MDGs Report, Ghana has still lost its highest amount of forest cover (2.24 percent) between 2005 and 2010, despite the fact that the report does account for re-aforestation.
Forest cover is still decreasing despite 530,000 hectares of forests planted between 1990 and 2010 (UNDP 2012, 49). The Ministry has stated that it has “continued to implement six key forest plantation projects” as well as planted 242.21 km of forest boundary through 2010 (UNDP 2012, 50). Its intentions are good, and it makes sense to essentially plant a new tree or forest for every tree or forest that is chopped down in deforested areas. Nevertheless, this policy alone is ineffective because the rate of deforestation far outweighs the capacity for restoration accorded to re-aforestation.
No matter how many new trees are planted by the Ministry and its agents, if illegal logging still occurs, it will be very hard to be able to keep track of exactly where this illegal logging is taking place and how many new hectares of forests need to be planted to compensate for the loss incurred. Although re-aforestation reduces some of the potential loss incurred from deforestation, this ineffective policy does not address the actual problem of stopping deforestation.
Another policy that has been undertaken by the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources is to create more forest reserves in order to protect the unique wildlife that lives in Ghana. An approximate 6.4 percent of forests are classified as protected (Mongabay 2006). As mentioned before from statistics by the United Nations Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre in 2004, Ghana has a diverse plethora of fauna and flora—including some that are endemic and/or threatened. Ghana’s forest reserves were created with the hopes of establishing an area in which forests are not indiscriminately burned down or logged so that humanity and wildlife can continue to thrive safely. The forest reserves were also meant to allow local communities to utilize the wood they needed without worrying about a forest near them disappearing the next day.
Nevertheless, a strong cause of concern about this type of conservation policy is the fact that illegal mining still occurs within these areas. Illegal mining for gold and other minerals has caused about 40 percent of forest reserves in just the Eastern Region of Ghana alone to be degraded (Ghana News Agency 2012). Illegal miners receive high gains by exporting to other countries without the Ghanaian government finding out. Trees are cut down to clear the way for miners who ruin resources that are meant to be used by the Ghanaian people. Furthermore, in order to harvest timber, new roads need to be constructed in areas that previously had impenetrable forest to help transport timber and minerals more easily (Allen 1985, 174).
The main problem with this policy of creating forest reserves is the government’s inability to maintain law and order over the protected acres and thus, illegal miners and lumberjacks will actively seek a way to exploit the Ghanaian forests. This policy of simply setting aside forested land for the use of people is not effective at all without proper law enforcement, which is the real policy that the Forestry Commission of Ghana should tackle.
Proper law enforcement should be the policy at the top of the agenda for the Forestry Commission of Ghana. Institutions need strengthening in order to effectively manage the forests of Ghana. The Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources can establish many guidelines and policies for what are acceptable lumber practices, create even more forest reserves in Ghana and even entirely prohibit the chopping down of trees in certain areas. However, none of these will be effective unless action is taken towards securing resources for law enforcement. Rather than allocating resources to re-aforestation, which merely adds another factor into the deforestation problem without strongly decreasing the annual deforestation rate, funding should go towards acquiring institutions or sources that would be willing to patrol in and around areas that are threatened and disallowing improper lumbering practices.
Moreover, each company should be required to submit a report of its lumbering practices to the government in order to receive a license to log in certain areas. The government would be able to both keep track of precisely where it has allowed companies to log timber and which specific companies it has allowed to mine. The government should also be allowed to perform random checks in any forest, and civilly or financially reprimand anyone caught without a proper license to log or mine.
One example of this stronger type of law enforcement policy is the Aowin Suaman District Assembly, which has a bylaw that states “no person shall cut down an economic tree in the District unless he first obtains a permit in writing to do so from the Aowin Suaman District Assembly” (GhanaWeb 2011). People caught without a permit are fined 50,000 cedi (26,000 USD), put into jail for at most six months, or both. This type of approach should be given priority before other policy considerations because without the implementation of strong law enforcement, no policies would ever be taken seriously by companies and the Ghanaian people. By “strengthening inter-agency co-ordination and strict enforcement of policies and legislation to ensure compliance” (NDPC 2012), as well as standardizing policies across the country, other policies will become more effective in their implementation as well.
Undoubtedly, there will be challenges in obtaining and permanently establishing law enforcement that will have a strong effect on reducing the rate of deforestation in Ghana. One short-term challenge is figuring out the logistics behind whether each city or the government should keep all the license records of which companies and individuals are allowed to log in which specific forests. This challenge is mainly an administrative task that needs to be resolved at the beginning of implementation of the license system. Once a stable system has been established, there will be conformity throughout the entire nation. Another short-term challenge is actually delegating law enforcement and patrol tasks to specific institutions funded by either the Ghanaian government or Forestry Commission. The institutions chosen to patrol the forests must not only have strict rules for their employees but also within the institution as a whole because guards could easily succumb to bribes.
A long-term challenge this policy of stronger law enforcement has is conflict management. In a paper by Tropenbos International Ghana, Mercy Derkyi contends that “the complexity and dynamics of forest use and management inevitably leads to conflicts.” This means that with the implementation of forestry licenses there will certainly be some companies that are not granted licenses due to lack of a compelling reason to log trees in a certain area.
Other conflicts may also arise within local communities in which groups may use violence to fight over a dwindling supply of firewood. For both the companies and local communities, the Forestry Commission needs to implement strict fines for companies that violate the license law and for individuals who use more firewood than necessary. Undoubtedly, it will be an ongoing challenge for the Forestry Commission to determine exactly who is at fault and how much to fine each time a conflict arises. Nevertheless, strict enforcement of policies and legislation must be intact and should never give in to pressure by these companies and local communities.
Stronger law enforcement and the creation of a forestry license registration process can help Ghana tackle its growing rate of deforestation despite commitment to Millennium Development Goal Seven of environmental sustainability. The detrimental consequences deforestation brings to humans, wildlife and nature cannot be stopped with re-aforestation and forest reserves creation policies alone. By increasing institutional law enforcement roles in patrolling forests and implementing a system of forestry licensing, the Forestry Commission can begin to significantly reduce the adverse effects of deforestation on further development and poverty in Ghana.
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