Many Ghanaians living near reserves no longer see themselves as custodians of forest resources, and have turned to illegal exploitation
ACCRA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Hopes are high in Ghana that financial support from the multilateral Climate Investment Funds will enable local people to play a part in preventing the country’s forest reserves from shrinking further, while earning a decent living at the same time.
Ghana’s forest resources have declined in recent decades, largely due to human economic activities including agricultural expansion, harmful farming practices, timber harvesting, urban growth, and mineral and mining exploitation.
Forest cover shrank from 7.5 million hectares in 1990 to just under 5 million hectares in 2010, with an annual net loss of around 115,000 hectares, according to a U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report from 2010.
Rural communities living close to forests have often been excluded from their management, which has led them to abandon their role as trustees of forest resources. And many efforts to regenerate forests have suffered from bad planning, as well as a lack of coordination and funding, experts say.
Charles Folovi, a 40-year-old farmer who lives on the fringes of the degraded Kalakpa game reserve near Ho, the capital of Volta Region, is optimistic that community members will welcome internationally-backed efforts to give them ownership of the forest reserve and enable them to contribute to its maintenance.
Currently, the government owns the reserve, which is managed by the Ghana Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission. According to a report by the Forest Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG), illegal chainsaw milling, logging and harvesting amounts to 3.7 million cubic metres of wood per year, almost double the official allowance of 2 million cubic metres.
The 320 sq km reserve is under threat from encroachment, charcoal burning, uncontrolled farming, hunting, cattle ranching and perennial bushfires – a situation repeated in other parts of the country.
Attempts to put a stop to these activities have been futile, as the government is unwilling to resettle the land invaders. Wildlife guards provide some protection but there are too many illicit goings on for them to tackle, with some happening under cover of darkness.
“Unsustainable exploitation of forests in the reserve area has led to deforestation and degradation, thus decreasing environmental services, (and increasing) emissions of greenhouse gases and disturbance for animals,” park manager George Asamoah told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Asamoah said well-planned interventions to improve forest management, make an inventory of resources and give local people ownership of land and trees would make his work easier because it would help reshape attitudes among those now carrying out illegal activities around the reserve.
BLUEPRINT FOR SUSTAINABLE MANAGEMENT
Ghana is to receive $50 million under the CIF Forest Investment Programme (FIP) to help address the causes of deforestation and create new models for forest management and benefit-sharing, as well as engaging the private sector and pooling knowledge. The project is due to run until 2016.
The African Development Bank (AfDB) and other partners, including the World Bank, plan to bring Ghana’s forest and land use programmes together, and identify investments that will prevent further deforestation.
Musah Abu-Juam, an officer with the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, said preparatory funding of $250,000 has been received to produce a report that will serve as a base to launch full-scale implementation of the FIP project.
“We are hopeful things are really moving fast and we are poised to come out with a blueprint that will bring sustainable management of the forest and its resources,” he said.
Saeed Abdul Razak, an officer with the climate governance programme of Civic Response, a non-profit organisation, warned of a common dichotomy between interventions on paper - which often promise to help the poorest people - and practical implementation on the ground.
“But gauging from the enthusiasm build-up among major actors, we only hope for the best, and (that this will) eventually equip the local people with skills to own the resource and have a voice in sustainable forest management,” he said.
BENEFITS FOR LOCAL PEOPLE
The FIP aims to give Ghanaians a bigger role in managing forests in a way that supports climate-resilient economic development, and ensure they receive a fair share of the benefits.
Mafalda Duarte, chief climate change specialist and CIF coordinator at the AfDB, said $2.5 billion out of global CIF funding of $7.6 billion is dedicated to Africa, part of which will be targeted at “reducing pressure on natural forests through an integrated landscape approach”.
A separate project now nearing completion shows how community members can be successfully brought into the management of forest resources, as the FIP project is also hoping to do.
An inter-agency initiative by FORIG and Ghana’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, with $500,000 support from the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO), has made significant progress in replanting degraded forest in the Ankasa area of Ghana’s Western Region.
Over 200 sq km of degraded forest have been restored thanks to the project, which began in 2009 and ends this year. The forest had suffered severe damage to its trees and animal population due to illicit human activities including logging, farming and hunting. But the situation has now improved.
It is hoped that the reforestation of the state-designated game reserve - which spans over 500 sq km and is home to elephants, monkeys and antelopes, as well as 300 different plant species - will provide enough vegetation cover for game to thrive and attract more tourists.
Project leader Dominic D. Blay told Thomson Reuters Foundation the project is in its final phase of implementation, and has promoted the involvement of local people in key roles in governance and management systems, as well as determining the financial value of environmental services.
Maxwell Awumah is a science journalist based in Accra, Ghana.
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