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Rosewood in Ghana still logged despite total ban — Chainsaw operator reveals

  Sat, 20 May 2023
Social News File photo
SAT, 20 MAY 2023 LISTEN
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The government of Ghana has since 2019 completely banned the export of rosewood from the country to China.

The ban is a measure taken by the government to stop illicit harvesting, transporting, processing, trading, and exporting of rosewood and control its exploitation.

Further to the directive, the government charged the Forestry Commission to cease the issuance of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) permits for the exportation of rosewood. But the full implementation of the ban has been called to question as available data indicate that, harvesting and exportation of rosewood still exist. For instance, in the year 2021, the US-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) announced that, about 3,007, 750 kg of rosewood, which is the equivalent of $ 2,169,458 was imported by China from Ghana in November 2021.

In 2019, a Chinese national, Helena Huang—known to Ghanaians as the “Rosewood Queen”—was arrested for transporting several containers of rosewood to Tema, Ghana’s largest port, under the operation at Yipala, trading as a company named BrivyWelss. Huang jumped bail, was rearrested, and then deported instead of being prosecuted. The Yipala operation was shut down in May 2019, but illegal logging operations have continuously resurfaced.

A Ghenvironment.com investigation in April this year revealed that, illegal logging of rosewood is still common in the Savanna area, especially Damongo, the Savanna regional capital, and its surroundings. Not only in the Savanna area but in the entire Northern belt of the country illegal logging of Rosewood is still rampant with visible effects such as large-scale deforestation, forest degradation, loss of vegetation cover and potential impacts such as desertification, drought, low precipitation, increase in temperatures, reduced water quality, loss of biodiversity, low crop yields, etc.

As part of the investigations, our reporter came into contact with a chainsaw operator (name withheld) at Damongo who is heavily involved in the cutting and processing of rosewood and he (the chainsaw operator) was willing to help our reporter get the wood if he so wishes. It must be noted that, our reporter pretended to be a merchant who buys the wood and shipped them to China. The chainsaw operator said “It is true that the government has banned the cutting and processing of rosewood but it is a business we can’t stop doing as the money involved is big, so we go into hiding and cut them for those who need the wood”.

To convince our reporter that, he would be able to get any quantity of rosewood he was looking for, the chainsaw operator placed a call to a local chief whose name is withheld and who promised to give out his concession for the wood to be cut.

“So we are ready, yes there is a ban on it but we do still cut them if the business comes and processed them to the Tema port in the Greater Accra Region for onward shipment to China” the chainsaw operator added.

“But, how can we get the rosewood out of Damongo to the Tema port after buying it here”? Our reporter feigned. Here the chainsaw operator explained in detail how they are able to manage to get the rosewood to the Tema port. He said

“There are two ways that we can help to get you the rosewood to be transported to the Tema port straight. The first one is for us to hide the rosewood in the container while using other trees which are legal to cover it. So when officials of the forestry commission stop our vehicle on the way, we open to show them the ones that are legal, and in most cases, we are able to escape unless there is a tip-off”.

“The second option is for us to bribe our way from here (Damongo) to Accra. I mean all the forestry checkpoints and aside that, I know some political leaders that can help us to transport the wood but we have to pay some heavy bribe to them”. When he was asked how much bribe we will need to pay the politicians he answered that we should prepare something like GHC 20,000 ($2000) depending on the number of containers we intend to get to the port from the area.

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The illegal timber trafficking warehouse in Yipala is seen from above . Credit FP

Our checks also revealed that, a container of rosewood sold to buyers on site ranges from GHC 10, 000 to GHC 15,000 (negotiable). Operator cost is GHC 500 to GHC 800 per container and sometimes depends on the number of trees felled (negotiable). Between GHC 400 to GHC 1000 is paid to Chiefs in the communities per 40 feet container. GHC 500 is the minimum fee paid to the Police and forest commission officials for a container as a bribe. Transport to the Tema port cost between GHC 5000 to GHC 6000 (negotiable).

Ban was the license to harvest more
Jeremiah Seidu, the program coordinator for the Jaksally Development Organization, a Bole-based NGO in the Savanna region alleged that, the ban on the harvesting of rosewood had given license to people to even harvest more. He noted that people hide under the ban to cut the trees and nothing is done about it.

“The rosewood menace has become a demon for us, especially when Northern Ghana is arid and prone to desertification,” he said, adding that “This is a part of the country that lacks trees, but we are lucky to have been blessed with rosewood but due to this uncontrolled logging of the wood, in the next few years, we will not have rosewood any longer.”

He confirmed how rosewood is illegally transported to the Tema port “Rosewood logs are often hidden in containers covered with yams and transported to the Tema port, and officials are bribed to certify the cargo,”. He gave an instance where a truck loaded with rosewood was apprehended in the Krachi area but was released, making the fight against illegal logging of rosewood difficult.

He revealed that all the forestry officials who were willing and ready to clamp down on the illegal activity have been intentionally transferred to other regions to pave the way for the illegal activity to continue.

I won’t risk my life again
Known for his relentless effort to stop the illegal logging and harvesting of rosewood in the Northern belt of the country, Mr Seidu told this reporter in an interview in Tamale, the Northern Regional Capital in March this year that, he would no longer risk his life.

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Jeremiah Seidu, the program coordinator for the Jaksally Development Organization. Credit FP

“They [illegal loggers] were targeting my life and have on several occasions shot at my car in my quest to track them and as I am talking to you I don’t have any car because I want to stop them from the illegal activity”. So I won’t risk my life anymore but I will have to come out with a new strategy to protect our fragile forest here”, he added.

According to him, since it is becoming physically difficult to fight the illegal loggers, it is imperative that, the spirit of the ancestors of the lands in the area is invoked to deal with anyone who tries to cut the wood. “I leave the fight to our deity, law of karma, and our good ancestors”, he added.

He said, his organization would also be encouraging communities to replant rosewood on degraded lands as well as empowering them to protect them.

The Member of Parliament for Builsa South, Clement Apaak, who has been vociferous on rosewood smuggling, believes the government’s failure to prosecute persons involved in the illegality forms part of its plan to cover up corruption and complicity.

Under Ghana’s former lands and natural resources minister, Kwaku Asomah-Cheremeh, who is now the country’s High Commissioner to India, an estimated 147,000 kilograms (about 325,000 pounds) of illegally logged rosewood was smuggled out of Ghana to China—but without a single prosecution.

“The lack of prosecution is largely because many of those involved in the trade have deep pockets or are well connected to the political class and because of the culture of silence, there are many who will not speak about the smuggling,” the MP told local media in February.

Ghenvironment.com attempted to get the government’s reaction (Officials of the Forestry Commission and Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources) on how effective they are implementing the measures put in place to ensure a total ban on the harvesting, processing, and exportation of rosewood to China but it proved futile.

—ghenvironment.com

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