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Opinion | Jun 11, 2014

Any Future For Ghana's Wood Industry As 70,000 Workers Lose Jobs?

Any Future For Ghana's Wood Industry As 70,000 Workers Lose Jobs?

It is often said that when the last tree dies, total humanity will die. The way trees are indiscriminately, legally and illegally felled in Ghana without any effort of replanting will soon lead to the disappearance of all species in Ghana. The laws of Ghana ban small operators who normally use chainsaws for logging in the forests. However, these laws remain only on paper and illegal felling of trees continues unabated. The law, on the other hand, permits the export of timber cut by large sawmills. It has been argued that such laws were unquestionably made to benefit the powerful business interests while neglecting local communities.

During the 19th century towards the early 20th century, Ghana had many different types of giant hardwoods. Hardwoods are those mainly used for floors, tables, stairs, baseboard and railings. In general hardwood comes from deciduous trees that lose their leaves annually. Hardwood grows slowly and it is often dense, though not always. One pathetic thing about these chainsaw operators is that when a tree is felled, they cut it into two or three and drag them through farms destroying cocoa farms and other farm products. This is a very illegal process which has been overlooked for years.

Rainforests normally contain giant hardwoods but in Ghana there are very few rainforests. The few that we have are depleted of their giant hardwoods. So illegal chainsaw operators now fell trees from thousands of farms normally operated by small holder owners. These owners treasure their surviving large trees as money in the bank. These chainsaw operators cut the logs into planks and transport them to the timber market to sell.

Both the government and the Forestry departments are painfully aware that the chainsaw operators are destroying the forests very rapidly and creating deserts as a consequence. The Association of Chainsaw Operators has refused to understand the concern expressed by the government because the association believes that they are the major suppliers of all the timber products used in Ghana. Paradoxically, both government and ministry officials buy the illegal wood products from the timber market, while still branding them as illegal and yet nothing is done to arrest the situation.

Other countries also have similar problems and are adopting different methods to solve them. The greatest offender is Brazil, which has the biggest and richest rain forests in the world. Now Brazil has cleared its acts and is doing well in slowing the disappearance of the rain forest. The United Nations have recently praised Brazil for their efforts. What did they do and what can we in Ghana learn from their efforts? At some point Brazil was considered the worst environmental villain as they depleted the trees in the rain forest. However, the government was determined to put their house in order. The government tackled the problem of chainsaw operators very effectively by imposing bans, restrictions and by setting police control in the Amazon.

These chainsaw operators run parallel with the legal wood industries. Both operators contribute to the depletion of trees in the forests. At the moment it is difficult to get hardwood since the trees are disappearing at a fast rate. While many sawmills are operating at less than half their productive capacity, other companies have folded up. This situation has led to about seventy thousand workers losing their jobs in the timber companies. The sad aspect is that the best wood which could have been used to produce durable and quality furniture, are exported to countries like Denmark only to be used to manufacture coffins. I could not hold my tears when I watched the documentary on Swedish television in 1990. When will Ghana learn?

Plundering and total disregard for Ghana's remaining rain forests have precipitated a rapid decrease of the forests at a very alarming rate due to logging and clearing for cash crop cultivation. For several decades this practice of logging without planting other trees in their place is giving rise to imminent loss of trees which have grown from between forty to one hundred years. This has negatively affected the rain forests leading to environmental damage, economic deterioration, human misery and, above all, an enormous proportion of deforestation. Since 1981, the annual rate of deforestation has been 2% which is 750 hectares. This frightening situation has continued for more than three decades. The fear is that the last tree may die soon and when it happens the last man in Ghana will die as it is often said.

At the moment Ghana's tropical rain forest area has reduced by 1.9 million hectares or 26% of its forest cover since 1990. The impact of deforestation is heavily affecting the livelihood of local people. It is also disturbing the biological integrity of the ecosystem where both humans and animals live and depend on.. This calls for serious concern. Until the major problems causing deforestation are solved, a greater portion of our land will turn into desert.

Stephen Atta Owusu
Author: Dark Faces At Crossroads

Email: [email protected]

Stephen Atta Owusu
Stephen Atta Owusu, © 2014

This author has authored 114 publications on Modern Ghana.
Author column: StephenAttaOwusu

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