Ghana is made up of tropical forests covering just over 10 percent of the land area and mainly confined to the south-west and middle parts of the country. There is the transition zone that was forest but is now turning to savannah due to forest removal and the impacts of climate change. The rest of the country is made up of savannah vegetation.
Ghana has a wealth of biodiversity (see CBD for details) including several species that are endemic to the country. There are reserves and parks protecting wildlife where elephants, hippopotamus, antelopes, monkeys, bongos, pangolins, hogs, a vast array of birds and butterflies and many more species can be seen.
But many are threatened due to habitat degradation and loss especially the forests, overexploitation of species particularly of bushmeat, landuse conversions, pollution of habitats especially freshwater, bush burning by farmers and hunters, climate change, wildfires and poaching.
Climate change impacts being experienced are mainly sea level rise leading to salt water intrusion into freshwater habitats, more frequent
and severe droughts and floods, and higher temperatures. Landuse conversions are mainly to large-scale farming and mono-cultural plantations.
Even the diversity of some food crop species is declining due to over-utilisation, especially numbers of banana, cocoa and yam species. Mangrove
forests are in rapid decline as well, which is worrying for coastal communities because of the protection afforded by the mangroves against increasingly severe storms.
Forests are over-exploited by logging companies and also for fuelwood and charcoal. Fish species are declining due to over-exploitation as well as the use of illegal practices such as pair trawling and beach seine.
Ecosystem goods and services are declining due to loss of forests, fisheries, farm and grazing lands, watersheds and water sources.
Forests. The forestry sector’s contribution to Ghana’s formal economy has declined considerably over the years. However the forests are still a critically important store of resources with over three million people depending on them for their livelihoods, and around 70% of the energy needs of Ghanaians being met by wood fuel and charcoal.
Despite their importance, they are disappearing too fast. Statistics on the size of remaining forest vary considerably. Often quoted figures suggest Ghana’s reserved forests (which comprise protected and production forest) were around 8.2 million ha at the beginning of the last century, but only about 1.7 million ha remained at the start of the 21st century. However the FAO, in its 2010 Global Forest Resources Assessment, estimated Ghana had around 2.6 million ha of reserved forests and around 500,000 ha of unreserved forest. Ghana’s forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. While timber harvesting is the main cause of deforestation here, and this is exacerbated by illegal forest practices, other pressures on the forest include farming, mining and fuelwood collection. The remaining fragments of forest are likely to disappear soon if radical action is not taken.
Illegal forest practices. Corruption and other illegal practices are rife in Ghana’s forestry sector, resulting in timber harvests that are far beyond sustainable limits. A 2010 assessment by Chatham House estimated that two thirds of timber production in Ghana was illegal (see: Chatham House, 2014. Illegal logging and related trade: the response in Ghana). Initiatives to improve forest governance in the country have had minimal impact, and corrupt practices are still used widely by all major forest stakeholders.
Corruption exists all along the forest-timber chain from production and harvest to supply and trade. Below are some examples of illegal practices in the forest and forest industries sector.
- Logging protected species or in protected areas or outside concession boundaries or in prohibited areas such as steep slopes, riverbanks and water catchments
- Duplication of felling licenses
- Girdling or ring-barking to kill trees so that they can be legally logged
- Contracting with local entrepreneurs to buy logs from protected areas
- Removing under/oversized trees from public forests
- Extracting more timber than authorized
- Reporting high volumes extracted in forest concessions to mask the fact that part of the volume declared is extracted from non-authorized areas outside the concession boundaries
- Logging without authorization
- Obtaining logging concessions through bribes.
- Setting woodland on fire to convert it to commercial uses
Illegal timber transport, trade and timber smuggling
- Transporting logs without authorization
- Transporting illegally harvested timber
- Smuggling timber
- Falsifying and/or reusing timber transportation documents
- Exporting and importing tree species banned under international law, such as CITES
- Exporting and importing timber in contravention of national bans.
Transfer pricing and other illegal accounting practices
- Declaring lower values and volumes exported
- Declaring higher purchase prices above the prevailing market prices for inputs such as equipment or services from related companies
- Manipulating debt cash flows to transfer money to subsidiary or parent company, for example by inflating debt repayments to avoid taxes on profits
- Under-grading, under-valuing, under-measuring and misclassification of species exported or for the local market.
Illegal forest processing
- Operating without a processing licence
- Ignoring environmental, social or labour laws and regulations
- Using illegally obtained wood in industrial processing.
(Source: Contreras-Hermosilla, A, (2002) Law compliance in the Forestry Sector. World Bank Institute. Available here)
EU support for improved forest governance in Ghana. Various strategies have been implemented to improve forest management and governance in Ghana. In 2003, the EU established the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) programme, which aims to reduce illegal logging by strengthening sustainable and legal forest management, improving governance, and promoting trade in legally produced timber. To support FLEGT implementation, the EU is establishing Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPA) with countries to ensure that all timber or timber products imported into the EU are produced in full compliance of the exporting country’s forest laws and are legally verifiable as such through a FLEGT licensing system. The EU and the Ghana Government signed a VPA in 2009. Besides timber imports to the EU, the agreement also makes it illegal for any EU company to invest in or do business with Ghanaian companies that do not operate according to Ghana’s forest laws.
The Legality Assurance System (LAS) is the legal framework and monitoring system established as part of a VPA to ensure the production of legal timber through compliance with all legal standards. The Ghana LAS enables identification of legally produced timber in Ghana and includes verification, independent monitoring, and issuing FLEGT licences.
Ghana’s LAS has 7 principles and 22 criteria. The principles are:
- Source of Timber: Timber originated from prescribed sources and concerned individual, group and owners gave their written consent to the land being subjected to the grant of timber rights
- Timber Rights Allocation: The logger held a Timber Utilisation Contract (TUC) issued by the Minister and ratified by Parliament following the specified competitive process or Logger held a Salvage Permit issued by the Forestry Commission
- Timber Harvesting Operations: The logger complied with forest operation procedures and standards specified by statute
- Transportation: Timber was at all times transported in accordance with standards prescribed by statute
- Processing. (details are in the two criteria: Timber processing facilities must have valid licences and registration with FC; and timber processing and industrial relations practices must comply with all legal requirements and standards)
- Trade: All vendors/exporters have valid licences or permits to market timber
- Fiscal Obligations: Neither the logger nor the Vendor was at the time of sale or export in default of fees, rents or taxes, prescribed by statute.
To find out more about FoE-Ghana’s practical projects working with communities and other stakeholders to protect forests and biodiversity in Ghana, have a look at our Forest and Biodiversity projects pages.