Ghana's forest cover, which stood at 8.2 million hectares in 1900, has now been reduced to about 1.2 million hectares, with an estimated lost of 65,000 hectares of forest annually. This is a serious cause of worry to many, especially those of us who are aware of the dire implication of this of forest destruction.
There has been rampant encroachment on our forest in recent times. Even forest areas which used to be reserved and restricted are now given to foreign and local mining companies to explore for gold and other precious minerals which is a hall mark of Ghana's rich forest. Many illegal miners have taken advantage of the situation and extended their illegal mining activities to forest reserves. Some timber contractors also pay their way through to log trees in forest reserves to produce timber for export and the local market as well. Illegal chain saw operators are also secretly felling forest tress under the cover of darkness for survival. Local folks and some farmers are felling trees and burning them for firewood both for domestic use and sale in the big towns. Felling of trees for charcoal and firewood is a very lucrative business and hence difficult to stop because charcoal happens to be the major source of energy for cooking in most Ghanaian homes. It is estimated that, about 90 percent of Ghanaians use charcoal or firewood to cook at home.
Many people in this country depend solely on the forest for their livelihood. Majority of the rural folks make farms in forest areas to support their families and sell the surplus if the need be to those of us residing in the cities and big towns. Statistics show that about 60 percent of Ghanaians are into sustenance farming. Majority of these farmers are located in the forest areas and use archaic forms of farming which are destructive to the forest directly or indirectly. Large hectares of forests are burnt annually to make way for farming. Unfortunately very little is made by these local farmers to protect the forest which sustains them and their families owing to the lack of knowledge and will power. It is an undisputable fact that, we are all going to pay dearly if we sit back unperturbed and watch our forest destroyed.
Logging removes the trees and, therefore destroys the habitat of many kinds of animals that require mature stands of trees to thrive. The harvesting of trees for which ever purpose alters Ghana's plant and animal biodiversity immensely. In addition to serving as habitat for many plant and animals species, forest trees provide many other important environmental services. The forest helps curb climate changes, reduce the rate of water runoff, protects soil erosion. The forest also serves as an avenue of recreational activities and tourist attraction which go along way to pump money into the fragile economy of the country. Because trees transpire large quantity of water and shade to the soil, their destruction often leads to a hotter and dryer climate.
Trees and other plants hold water on their surface, reducing the rate of runoff. Reducing the speed of runoff also allows more water to sink into the soil and recharges groundwater resources. Therefore, removal of trees results in more rapid runoff and flooding, and soil erosion become more common. This is a major cause of rampant flooding of the Volta Lake which always leads to loss of lives and property during the rainy seasons. Soil particles can be washed into nearby streams where they cause siltation. The losses of soil particles also have serious detrimental effect on soil fertility and food production as a whole. The soil particles at centre streams may cover spawning site of fish and lead to loss of fish population.
The constant harvesting of trees along our streams and rivers such as the Volta River could be the major cause of drastic reduction in fish population; this is because harvesting the trees along the water bodies cause the water to warm due to increased exposure to sunlight and this may have negative effect on fish population.
The process of cutting down trees and transporting the logs is another cause of concern because it greatly destroys the wild life in the area. Access roads to the forest areas are special problems. Frequent travel over the roads removes vegetation and exposes the bare soil to more erosion .The road also permit poachers to have greater access to wild life in the forest.
All these factors lead to the destruction of the wilderness and thus reduce the number of foreigners and locals who will have to visit natural forest for recreation.
It is evident that wilderness and logging can never co-exist. It is therefore imperative to put a stop to all forms of logging and other activities that is gradually destroying Ghana's rich forest and vegetation for it is often said “ when the last tree dies , the last man also dies. And as individuals it is our moral responsibility to protect nature and preserve our rich forest for the future generation.
By: Elvis Akwasi Acheampong
Freelance writer and president of Green Ghana Foundation.