By: Fidelis Awonodoma Da-uri
Last Sunday was one of those beautiful days for the family of Mr. Dakurah because he has just sold out 200 bags of charcoal to some middlemen to be exported to Southern Ghana making an amount of GH₵6,000.00!
“This is a lot of money to an ordinary farmer like me! I used to sell between 100 to 150 bags of charcoal every month, but I was able to increase the number this month by 50 bags. Hopefully, in the next three months, I can sell over 500 bags per month.”
Asked whether he is aware of the environmental problems he is creating through charcoal burning, Mr. Dakurah said “I cannot stop burning charcoal because that is where I get my livelihood from. I pay my children school fees, renew my family health insurances and buy foodstuff for my family all from the sale of charcoal. I used to sell between 100 to 150 bags of charcoal every month, but I was able to increase the number this month by 50 bags”.
The practice of cutting down trees for commercial charcoal burning, as firewoods and the exporting of rosewoods in the three regions of the north (Upper West, Upper East, and Northern Regions) is a lucrative business to many rural communities who have abandoned their farms and are into mass destruction of the forest. With fewer trees as compared to the southern sector, charcoal is being exported daily from Northern Ghana to Southern Ghana. And vast forests are being destroyed through charcoal burning and the cutting and exporting of rosewoods from these regions. Women have formed charcoal burning groups; men have formed associations to help one another with labor, chiefs and traditional authorities have endorsed the practice and the district assemblies and law enforcement agencies are doing little to stop the export of charcoal and rosewoods.
Whiles commercial charcoal burning is practiced across the three regions, rosewood cutting and exporting is much common in the Sissala East and Wa East districts in the Upper West Region. Kassena-Nankana West, Bawku West, Builsa North, Kassena-Nankana Municipal, Builsa South, district in the Upper East Region and Mole National Park in the Northern Region.
According to an investigation to know much about why rosewoods are been cut despite a ban, it was realized that rosewood cutting was a lucrative business attracting communities to give out these trees on their farms.
“A truckload of rosewood goes for Gh₵ 10,000 at the cutting sites and for each truckload, the chief of the area receives Gh₵ 1,000 as a kind of commission. And fueled by this greed, some traditional rulers have embarked on the wanton and profligate destruction of our community forests and woodlands,” said Mr. Abdulai Aziz.
A visit to some of these areas revealed routes strewn with logs, waiting to be bought by dealers for onward transportation to the port. The phenomenon is difficult to stop because of the involvement of powerful chiefs and politicians. The laws and bylaws are therefore broken with impunity, and those within the communities against this practice are often powerless because those arrested are normally left to go scot free. Apart from the destruction of this collective good, the little royalties accruing from the logging go into private pockets; monies that could have helped develop these communities.
Lack of political will
Successive governments over the years did not do enough to stop the indiscriminate cutting down of trees for commercial charcoal production and rosewoods for export. There is also a very weak local government system to regulate the harvesting and trade of natural resources especially the exporting of rosewoods and charcoal. The ban on illegal mining though it has some implementation challenges is yielding some commendable results.
Impact of deforestation
Northern Ghana especially the Upper East and Upper West Regions are currently facing the effects of climate change in their daily lives including poor unpredictable rains, long droughts, poor crops yield, floods and many more.
“Unlike Southern Ghana, we have only one raining season per year up here which is not predictable; we sometimes have little or torrential rain falls. This affects our agriculture outputs, a reason why there are high levels of poverty, hunger, and malnutrition in our communities” said Dr. Clement.
There should be functional laws and policies at the district, regional and national levels on sustainable charcoal production. The district assemblies should set up bylaws that will impose a tax on commercial charcoal production and rosewoods cutting and use the proceeds to restore and replenish the damaged environment. The government should consider the provision of stoves to reduce over-reliance on charcoal and firewood.
Rural communities should be encouraged to participate in government programs aimed at reducing poverty such as the Planting for Food a Jobs program, Subsidized Fertilizer Distribution program, etc.
The government should stop issuing concession and permits people to have the legal right of destroying our forests.
Law enforcement: Lack of or poor monitoring and evaluation of the usage of our forest is causing deforestation. Illegal chain saw operators and people who cut down trees for the purposes of exporting, commercial charcoal production or commercial firewoods should be made to face the law and sanctions imposed on them including imprisonment and fines.