The pressures on Ghana’s forests have been recognized for many years with "alarming deforestation" noted as early as 1908. Agricultural changes were partly responsible over many years for the forest loss, but recent evidences show that there are other driving forces and factors, which have influenced the face of forests in Ghana.
There are indications that Ghana has never successfully practiced sustainable forest management. The forests have been depleted and degraded and the sector is now characterized by excessive harvesting of logs over and above the AAC, reduction in standing volumes of species, dwindling resource base, species depletion and loss of biodiversity.
The driving engines that have shaped the structure and composition of the forestry are logging, unsustainable farming, annual bushfires, surface mining and infrastructural development. Underlying these driving engines are forest policy failures, unrealistic forest fee regimes, external prices of timber and weak institutional structures.
2.1.1 Excessive Logging
The harvesting of timber is the most important single factor contributing to deforestation in Ghana. However in 1991, logging operations accounted for only 14% of the deforested areas in Ghana (FSD Annual Reports–1962-94). Outside the Forest Reserves logging has been on the increase mainly due to lack of effective control. In recent times, logging activity has been intensified more in the semi-deciduous zones than in the evergreen forest due to greater densities of desirable timber species. These drier zones are now in critical conditions partly due to logging.
Illicit logging activities due to poor supervisory role of the Forest Services Division are also having a serious toll on the timber resource base of the country. The Division lacks resources and logistics to adequately monitor timber operations and to ensure that timber contractors comply with the provisions in the logging manuals.
A major problem associated with the logging procedure is the insufficient attention given in the yield allocation process. In the process of harvesting, seed trees, which influence regeneration, are supposed to be left behind. Unfortunately due to lack of adequate information, such trees are not identified and stock mapped leading to the harvesting of all trees, which have strong influence on forest regeneration.
When logging is appropriately managed, then it needs not to be a serious threat to the forest vegetation. The problem is that logging in recent decades has certainly not been managed appropriately, and this is the main reason for the poor quality of many forest areas. The detrimental effect of logging on the resistance of the vegetation to "natural" hazards, particularly fire, is the most serious risk of heavy exploitation.
2.1.2 Unsustainable Agricultural Practices
The area of land under agriculture increases every year due to the extensive system of farming being practiced in the country, which also involves cutting of vegetation. The traditional bush fallow system of cultivation involves slash and burn of forest and grassland. However, long fallows necessary for the forest to regenerate fully is only possible if population growth and pressure on the land are low. With increasing national population over the last two decades, demand pressure on land has been considerable. Demand for subsistence agricultural cultivation has been compounded by demand for cash crops like cocoa, coffee, oil-palm, tobacco and for urbanization and infrastructural development.
Farming whether under the Taungya system or not is seriously bad in conservation terms where it is either persistent or occurs over large areas. Only few temporary farms may well recover to good forest when abandoned. It is known that farming established in the forest areas is a fait accompli, much harder to remove than to prevent in the first place and also a timorous source of fire within. Although there are limited empirical data on the extent of deforestation, the specific location and acreage, Agyemang & Brookman-Amissa (1987) attributed 70% of deforestation to shifting cultivation (bush fallow). Some areas have been badly blighted by farms due to local pressure for land. Such pressures are unlikely to be abated and new farms, which prevent regenerating phases of the vegetation, are likely to increase.
Conversion of areas of reserved forest into plantations of exotic trees like cocoa, Teak (Tectonic grandis) and Gmelina is also another source of deforestation in the country. The Taungya systems have failed disastrously in many areas and several areas, which ought to have been completely protected, have been reduced to Eupatorium-solanum fire hazards.
The trend that the forest resources have been under persistent attacks by agriculture partially due to the absence of a national land use plan, contributed also to a decrease in forest area.
2.1.3 Bush Burning
Forest fire has been the immediate cause of most forest degradation in the country over the last few years. According to data gathered over the years, every year about 30% of the forest areas are destroyed by fire. Bushfires occur annually in the dry season usually from November to May.
The causes of bush fires are both intentional and unintentional. Intentional fires are called early burning used as a management tool to reduce the ferocity of late dry-season fires in vegetation near the forest-savannah boundary. Though this management practice has been in use since time immemorial, it has a negative influence on forest regeneration and contributes significantly to deforestation. Unintentional fires result from activities of hunters who may fail to extinguish campfires.
More than 1 million m3 of exportable timber have been lost to fire over the last decade. Burnt forests are dominated by pioneer trees of little economic merit and are more prone to burn in the future. Fire is now the greatest threat to the long-term survival of half the forest in Ghana. Fire prevents forest from developing into primary forest and records indicate that only 20% of the forest zone is currently covered by forest which has not burnt regularly (Hawthorne (1994). Fire Damage and Forest Regeneration in Ghana).
2.1.4 Mining & Quarrying
Open cast mining activities for gold and diamond, especially those by the small-scale operators and large-scale mining for bauxite, manganese and gold, pose serious threat to forest in the forest region of Ghana. Iron ore extraction around Awaso (Afao hills) and bauxite mining at Atewa and Tano-Ofu and surface mining in the Western and Ashanti Regions are also serious threats to the forest.
Layout of mines and infrastructure (including waste dumps, storage, tailings ponds, plant yards, roads and accommodation) destroy large areas of forestry reserves. Today, gold mining poses the greatest threat, particularly to reserves in and near the genetic "hotspots" of the wet evergreen zone.
Most of the mineral belts in Ghana with geological information are located south of latitude 8o north and this is the area where mining activities are most concentrated. Incidentally this is the area within which the forestlands are located. According to the recent national development policy, Ghana intends to place 2% of its production forest reserves under mining.
Most of the mining operations are surface based and contribute to
Destruction of vegetation including economic trees and cash crop
Destruction of water resources and watershed from the forest environment
Pollution of sources of drinking water for the rural people
2.1.5 Settlement & Related Infrastructural Construction
Land clearing for settlement establishment occurs during the expansion of urban and/or rural built-up areas and construction of roads and their infrastructural development. The tremendous increase in the proportion of total population growth absorbed into the urban areas has implications for the supply of urban land for housing and for the provisions of infrastructure and other social services.
As noted in the previous sections, forest depletion and degradation is the effect of the complex interactions between social, cultural, political and commercial factors. The forest resource-using activities and forest degradation are at first sight only remotely connected. This relationship, however, is based on the sound understanding of not only physical linkages among events but also the equally complex economic, financial, social and institutional linkages that parallel them. Most of the underlying factors that are affecting the forestry outlook are therefore behavioural.
The behavioural factors develop a better understanding of individual and institutional behaviour that relates to resource use. It is a disciplinary approach and the analysis of causes are more fundamental to the way society works.
2.2.1 Lack of Stakeholder Participation in Forest Management
In Ghana most rural communities live very close to the forest and are major and direct consumers of the goods and services from the forest; especially the non-timber forest products. They are the major and direct cause of deforestation and other forms of ecological and environmental damages. Thus their exclusion from forest management through policy makes them lose self-image as trustees of the forest resources.
There is evidence that the rate of deforestation has seemingly declined since the concept of community participation in forest management was introduced about a decade ago.
2.2.2 Low Forest Taxes & Fees Regime
Forest revenue is generated mainly through royalties, rental fees and silvicultural charges. From the economic point of view often in the timber industry, a substantial residual economic value remains (before tax) after accounting for production costs and imputing sufficient profit to sustain the enterprise over the long term. This residual value or stumpage value in reference to the value of the standing timber is the maximum price a logger would be willing to pay under competitive condition to the government. If the government leaves a large proportion of the stumpage uncollected, pervasive economic incentives sets in to influence the rate of log harvesting. Thus the forest revenue regimes have a critical role in determining the rate of environmental decay.
The Ghanaian forest authorities have frequently established inappropriate forest revenue systems in which the timber royalties do not cover the cost of managing the forest. The forest fees do not cover the full economic cost neither does it cover full operating cost. Until recently, timber royalties were charged per tree and value was estimated at less than 2% fob price per m³ of round log multiplied by the average tree volume of the species at the minimum felling diameter. The logger’s liability was assessed from the yearly log production complied by the Forest Products Inspection Bureau. The system is inefficient as a mechanism for recovering stumpage value, thus promoting wastage both in the forests and mills.
An analysis of the forest fees in Ghana shows that forest fees have been too low in absolute terms to protect the resource or slow down exploitation. The current system has resulted in an inadequate market incentive differentiation between species, thus leading to over-exploitation of highly desirable timber species and under-exploitation of abundant but less-desirable species.
2.2.3 Weak Institutional Structures
The failure of the Forest Authorities to adequately control and manage the forest sustainably has resulted in large-scale encroachment on the forest reserves. Weak administrative machinery to monitor and patrol the forest is also the underlying factor for increasing bush fire in the forest areas. The weak administrative machinery may also be the result of inadequate funding for the operations of the forest authorities.
The weak administrative machinery is often a measure of the gap between projected revenues and what is actually collected, or the ability to generate enough revenue to cover the cost of operation. The income generating ability of the Forest authorities determines the efficiency in managing the forest. Until 1998, the FSD was able to collect less than 58% of its potential revenue due to be collected. The Service was therefore unable to cover the full cost of forest management. It could not acquire the basic equipment needed for forest management and monitoring. This gave rise to widespread illegal timber operations across the country. The illegal operator became very sophisticated and could outwit the forest authorities in their illegal operations.
2.2.3 Lack of investments in the forestry sector
Investments in the forestry sector can have an indirect pressure on the forest. Where people fail to invest in timber plantations, it exerts undue pressure on the natural forest since the demands of the installed milling capacity exceeds the supplies for the forest. In the past the private sector failed to invest in the timber plantations for almost a century and the natural forest continued to be the source of raw materials for the over-capacity milling industry.
2.2.4 Population Pressure
Rapid population growth is one of the root causes of poverty and forest resource degradation in Ghana. The rapid population growth since independence, coupled with internal migration, also accounts for the high rate of forest degradation. In most parts of the country especially in Western, Ashanti and Central as the population density increases and land becomes scarcer, its value rises and farmers then find it cost-effective to intensify production. Others resort to clearing virgin forest for additional cultivation of cocoa. The poor and landless peasant farmers tend to be pushed onto ecologically sensitive areas with low agricultural potential (for example semi-arid savanna, erosion-prone hill sides and tropical forests). The situation is aggravated where large-scale farmers respond to growing pressure to expand primary commodity export like cocoa and cashew and thus enlarge the areas on which cash crops are grown.
Related to population growth is the growth in urban settlement and a changed urban land use pattern. The growth in urban population means an increase in demand for land for constructional purposes.
2.2.6 Policy Interventions Failures
Another stream of factors responsible for the forest degradation in Ghana is policy intervention failures. The traditional approach to solve environmental problems is for the public authorities to promote natural regeneration programs and activities controlling pollution. Where these policy interventions fail, the rate of deforestation stands out glaring. Most of the natural regeneration efforts that have been started, failed due to ill planning, uncoordinated efforts and lack of resources.
The failure of the Taungya system in the reforestation strategy in the mid-1970s accounts for the large track of degraded forestlands in the transitional zone. Under the Taungya system, farmers were allowed to cultivate food crops in forest reserves while the forestry authorities planted timber trees. However, due to poor supervision and unclear terms of future benefits, most farmers flouted the terms and conditions regulating the operations and thus failed to nurture the trees resulting in large degraded areas.
Government’s policy of waiving export taxes on some processed wood products, subsidized credit and export financing, tax holidays and concession bases as stated in the 1989 Investment Code of Ghana, encouraged over investment in the milling sub-sector thereby encouraging over-exploitation of timber resources.
Thus the Government policies in most cases have had adverse effects in both environmental and standard economic terms and offer fairly direct incentive for wasteful environmental management. Implicit in this analysis is the fact that ineffective government policies dealing with forest offences have lead to increased forest degradation. The increasing trends in forest offences are due to abysmally low court fines that are imposed on forest offenders. In most cases, it is more profitable to break the law and be fined than being honest with the law. Government policies therefore have greater influence on the rate of deforestation.
2.2.7 Poor Institutional Coordination
Although the activities of most agencies in the other sectors of the economy like agriculture, mining, road infrastructure and population have direct impact on the forest resource base, yet there are no mechanisms for coordinating the activities of these institutions. Lack of effective coordination and communication has resulted in increased assault on the forest resource base, which has contributed to its fast degradation.