Tuesday, December 20, 2011

From Durban, with HOPE!

Coming from Durban, world governments committed themselves to write a comprehensive global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, covering both developed and developing countries, for the first time. Despite this good progress at Durban, the conference could not arrive at a legally binding deal to bail out the planet. This global agreement that has received commitment is to come into force in 2020. I wish it would be earlier than 2020, though. It has been a long and tiring journey. Sometimes I ask myself, “Why is it so easy to save the banks – but so hard to save the earth?”

There have been such climate change agreements before, but never like this. The 1997 Kyoto protocol is an example of a treaty stipulating cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, but the cuts only apply to developed countries and the US never joined in. Several accords were struck under the Kyoto Protocol but they were voluntary, not legally binding. Politicians could easily walk out of such non-binding agreements, compared with legally-binding treaties. Coming out of Durban, the new phase of negotiations about to start should be "a protocol, a legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force", which will effectively mean countries are legally bound. Unfortunately, it is worrying that the Durban talks had nothing on how how far and how fast countries should be cutting their carbon dioxide.

Scientists say when global temperatures rise beyond 2 degrees Celsius, climate change will become catastrophic and irreversible. And emissions have risen by nearly 50% in the past 20 years, and still rising. With every year of increase, we have much less chance of keeping global temperature rises to less than 2 degrees Celsius. But the earth needs to wait till 2015 when governments will wrap up negotiations and a legal document will be ready to for signing; and a further 5 years for ratification. In between now and 2015 and then 2020, advocacy must go on to ensure that nothing goes wrong. It’s a delicate process but “working together, we will save tomorrow today”. I have HOPE!

There are more positives which make the Durban conference great, in my opinion. Compared with previous meetings, it seems this time Africa had a better representation. The African Group made up of 54 nations presented a united front throughout the negotiations, with few disagreements among them. The group had clear priorities and stood by them. The leader of the African group made this statement "Whether we are reducing our priorities to two, while yesterday I spoke about five priorities, I will even go further and say that the priority that we have is only one: to keep one billion Africans safe as regards the adverse effect of a climate change phenomenon to which they did not contribute." Reports were still rife that some of the African delegates were just out of touch with the issues that were being discussed but it is a great improvement on previous delegations. As usual, some African delegates were reported to have found the shopping malls and streets of Durban a better conference room. Some were obviously there on holiday! But this time, the continent had better representation and I believe it is getting better and a time will come that National Delegations will be made up of people who really understand what is to be discussed and not because they are government functionaries and there is an opportunity to travel.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Clear more forest; cause more climate change

Deforestation in Ghana has undoubtedly had an effect on greenhouse gas emission contributions from Ghana. The cumulative effect of the volume of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere annually from clearing and burning of forests in Ghana over the last century has surely had devastating effects on the world's climate. when forest are burnt, the carbon stored in trees are released into the atmosphere via carbon dioxide gas coming from the burning of biomass.

When our forest are allowed to stand, carbon is removed from the atmosphere and absorbed in wood, leaves and soil. Due to the ability of forests to absorb and store carbon over an extended period of time, they serve as “carbon sinks”. In effect, when forests are removed, this unique role that they play to keep carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere at normal levels is lost and rather the carbon stored in them is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide gas, upon burning. Overall, the world’s forest ecosystems are estimated to store more carbon than the entire atmosphere (Greenfacts, 2007).

From 1990 to 2000 and to 2004, carbon dioxide emissions in Ghana have increased steadily from 0.2419 to 0.3075 and to 0.326 metric tonnes per capita, respectively (UNEP, 2008). This is not surprising considering the deforestation rate and how “slash and burn” method of farmland preparation is widely practised all over Ghana. Unfortunately, as we contribute to climate change through deforestation, Climate change will in turn affect the remaining forests profoundly through increasing damage to forest health through proliferation of forest fires, pests and diseases (FAO, 2007).

Unfortunately, both the “1948 Forest Policy” and the “1994 Forest and Wildlife Policy” had no real policy direction on climate change. Let's assume that at the time these policies were developed. climate change was not a 'major issue'. This means at it stands now these policies can not help in mitigation and/or adaptation to climate change which is a major environmental issue. At this juncture, I think a review of Ghana's forest and wildlife policy is long overdue.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Deforestation in Ghana: Government's incentives and policies

Ghana has one of the highest deforestation rates in Africa and the world, at 2% per annum. Between 1990 and 2000, Ghana lost an average of 135,000 hectares of forest per year; amounting to an average annual deforestation rate of -2% (FAO, 2007). Between 2000 and 2005, Ghana’s forests decreased by a further 115,000 hectares, with a rate of forest change of -2% per annum. In total, between 1990 and 2005, Ghana lost 26% of its forest cover, or around 1,931,000 hectares (UNEP, 2008). Measuring the total rate of habitat conversion (defined as change in forest area plus change in woodland area minus net plantation expansion) for the 1990-2005 interval, Ghana lost 27.6% of its forest and woodland habitat.

Deforestation in Ghana is primarily driven by slash and burn agriculture. Timber harvesting, wildfires, mining, and rising demand for fuelwood are also important contributors of deforestation in Ghana. In the cocoa growing regions of Ghana, which also happen to be in the forest areas, large tracts of tropical forest have been cleared to support increasing cocoa cultivation. Ghana’s economy is agricultural based with lots of income coming from cocoa exports. Currently, Ghana is the world’s second-largest producer of cocoa beans (FAO 2007). When world cocoa prices are low, Ghana’s foreign exchange earnings are significantly affected; this is often compensated for by increasing timber and mineral exports. Thus, cocoa farming is both a direct and indirect driver of deforestation (UNEP, 2008).

Government's efforts to increase investments
The Ghana government, since the 1980s, has provided generous incentives to attract investments in the mining sector and have even given mining concessions within some of Ghana’s forest reserves, eg. Afao Hills Forest Reserve (UNEP, 2008). This poses a serious threat to Ghana’s remaining forests. Over 60 per cent of the Wassa West District in western Ghana is now under concession to large-scale gold mining companies, the greatest concentration of mining in a single district in Africa (UNEP, 2008). The large footprints of these open-pit mines directly result in significant forest loss. In addition, related infrastructure and associated population growth indirectly drive even greater land cover conversion. Latest findings, according to “Africa: Atlas of Our Changing Environment” released by the United Nation’s Environment Programme in June 2008, indicate that significant portions of Wasa West’s tropical rainforest have been degraded by or lost to this gold mining boom since the 1980s. In addition to the threat from mining, shifting cultivation, uncontrolled logging, surface mining, charcoal production, and increasing population place enormous pressure on the remaining of Ghana’s tropical forests.

According to UNCCD (2002), one-third of Ghana’s land is already affected by desertification. The land is becoming increasingly arid and this is evidenced by lowered water tables, siltation of rivers, and increased flooding; rapid deforestation and poor cultivation practices are largely responsible for this (UNEP, 2008).

Deforestation in Ghana, forest policies and legislation
There is no doubt that Ghana’s forest policies, legislation and its enforcement have been a major contributing factor to the rate of deforestation in the country. Until 1994, detailed, clearly defined forest policies specifying goals, objectives and strategies for development of forest and the future direction of the timber industry were not in existence (MLF 1996), despite the 1948 forest policy. This was surely a recipe for disaster in forest management. Boateng (1994) intimates that forest degradation intensified through illegal cutting and encroachment for agricultural purposes, as a result. Due to the lack of proper policy direction on tree harvest, timber firms and concessionaires were selectively felling only preferred commercial timber species.

Another major contributor to Ghana’s deforestation has been the alienation of forest communities from policy formulation although such communities were expected to help in protecting the forests (MLF 1996). The lack of legal sanctions, and where available, it not being deterrent enough, for e.g. low fines, has encouraged illegal forest harvesting. It is therefore not surprising that in less than 50 years, Ghana’s primary rain forest has been reduced by 90% (UNEP, 2008).

MLF (1994). Forest and Wildlife Policy, Republic of Ghana, 24th November 1994. Ministry of Lands and Forestry, Accra – Ghana.

MLF (1996). Forestry Development Master Plan, 1996 – 2020. Ministry of Lands and Forestry, Accra Ghana.

UNEP 2008), “Africa: Atlas of Our Changing Environment.” Division of Early Warning and Assessment (DEWA), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Nairobi, Kenya. pp 182-187.

UNCCD (2002). Ghana Environmental Protection Agency. National Action Programme to Combat Drought and Desertifi cation. Accra, Ghana: Republic of Ghana.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Too Many Laws Spoil the Forest?

Forestry-related laws and regulations might be difficult to respect in some cases, especially for small producers and disadvantaged rural communities, who may not have the means to follow costly and complex legal requirements or who are excluded from benefits of nearby forests.

There is a correlation between numerous regulations, corruption and "informal" (or illegal) economy are which are synonymous with developing countries which tend to have an overabundance of regulations (World Bank, 2004). Where there are many laws, one is sure to find a weak policy framework, and vice versa. That's why I have been very concerned with the many laws in Ghana's forest sector and how it is impacting on our forests. After all the laws reviewed so far, some more laws were enacted from the year 2000, all in an attempt to ensure sustainable forest management in Ghana.

The Forest Plantation Development Fund Act, 2000 – Act 583
Act 583 established a Forest Plantation Development Fund to provide financial assistance for the development of private commercial forest plantations, to provide for the management of the fund and to provide for related matters. Funds for this fund were to be generated from the proceeds of the timber export levy imposed under the Trees and Timber Decree 1974 (NRCD 273) as amended by the Trees and Timber (Amendment) Act, 1994 (Act 493); grants and loans for encouraging investment in plantation forestry; grants provided by international environmental and other institutions to support forest plantation development projects for social and environmental benefits; and moneys provided by the Parliament of the Republic of Ghana for private forest plantation purposes.

The Forest Plantation Development Fund (Amendment) Act, 2002 – Act 623
ACT 623 was enacted to amend the Forest Development Fund Act, 2000 (Act 583) to enable plantation growers, both in the public and private sectors, to participate in forest plantation and to provide for related matters.

The Forest Protection (Amendment) Act, 2002 – Act 624
ACT 624 was to amend the Forest Protection Decree 1974 (NRCD 243) to provide for higher penalties for offences therein and to provide for related purposes.

Timber Resources Management (Amendment) Act, 2002 - Act 617
This ACT is an amendment of the Timber Resources Management Act 1997. This Act is to exclude from its application land with private forest plantation; to provide for the maximum duration, and maximum limit of area, of timber rights. It also provides for incentives and benefits applicable to investors in forestry and wildlife and to provide for matters related to these.

Despite all these laws, even the lay man is yet to be convinced that our forests are being managed sustainably. The laws are being broken with impunity! Powerful people in society are behind illegal logging making loggers enter forests boldly and cut trees because they know they can get away with it. Forest fringe communities and poor farmers are being compelled to break laws because they claim to have no choice because the laws are restricting them from accessing the very resource they live with. Discriminatory land tenure systems and even restriction of subsistence use by people whose livelihoods depend on forest products have contributed to a lack of local responsibility for sustainable forest stewardship. One of the fundamentals of good legislation is that laws are communicated to and understood by those stakeholders most affected by them. Clear laws ensure compliance, reduces wrong interpretation of the law and facilitates the task of the judiciary. Bureaucratic procedures, complex laws, corrupt practices making illegal operations more profitable than legal activities, weak law enforcement, and low penalties for offenders have all contributed in making our laws ineffective.

It is worth noting that sometimes a complete review and redrafting of the entire forest legislation might be the best approach. (FAO, 2005)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Some Forest Legislation after Independence till 1999

Going through legislation has been a difficult thing and this has resulted in the long break. Finally, I am back! This time we will sample some of the laws that were passed in the forest sector after independence. Let's focus on those that came into being from 1957 to 1999

The Forests Amendment Act, 1957

This is a further amendment to Cap 157 (The Forest Ordinance, 1927) after independence. The amendment of the principal Act concerns regulation making powers of the Governor in Council and the extension of that power so as to apply regulations to areas constituted as Forest Reserves by by-laws made by the appropriate local authority. In the case of conflict between local by-laws and a regulation, the provisions of the regulation shall prevail.

The Forest Protection Decree, 1974 (NRCD 243)

NRCD 243 declared any specified damaging of trees, cultivation, creating fires, obstructing of water flows, hunting or fishing or grazing or trespassing of cattle in a Forest Reserve without a written permission of the competent forest authority to be an offence. This decree mainly replaced the offence creating sessions of the Cap 157 and, for the first time, took a serious look at persistent offenders and forest officers who took part in forest offences by conniving with law breakers. Under this decree, persistent offenders were banned from engaging in timber business and forest officers found culpable were summarily dismissed. Duties and powers of Forest Officers were specified. The NRCD 243 was a major step to ensure a strict protection of Ghana’s forest.

The Concessions Act 1962 – Act 124

The Concessions Act 1962 – Act 124, prohibited the creating of forest reserves by local governments; it removed the role of courts in granting timber concession and transferred that role to a Minister of State, and vested all timber rights in the president acting as a trustee for the owners. This law was deemed appropriate by the government of that time when it wanted to control the commanding heights of the economy.

The Trees and Timber Decree, 1974 (NRCD 273)

This decree aimed at protecting trees and timber and regulating their cutting, transportation and export. It required timber merchants to register property marks with the office of the Chief Conservator of Forests. The timber merchants were required to mark the stump of each tree they felled and the logs with their unique registered property marks. Areas outside forest reserves but having a good stocking of timber were declared temporarily protected areas until the timber was harvested.

Forestry Commission Act, 1980 - Act 405

This Act provides for the establishment of the Ghana Forestry Commission. The functions of the Ghana Timber Marketing Board, the Forest Products Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the Forestry Department and the Department of Game and Wildlife shall be exercised under the supervision of the Commission.

The Trees and Timber (Amendment) Act, 1994 – Act 493

This Act to amended the Trees and Timber Decree, 1974 (N.R.C.D.273). This act placed punitive levies on the export of certain timber species in log form and on the export air-dried lumber. This law aimed at encouraging the development of the local timber industry through processing of the harvested logs beyond the saw-milling stage. It was expected to add value to the logs before export and also to create employment. In effect, this Act supports the objective 2 of the 1994 Forest and Wildlife Policy.

The Timber Resource Management Act, 1997 - Act 547

This Act streamlined the process for granting rights to harvest trees and extract timber (timber rights) to ensure the sustainable management and utilization of timber resources. The act is intended to contribute to achieving the conservation and sustainable development of the nation’s forest resources, as indicated in the aim of the 1994 Forest and Wildlife Policy. In the act, harvesting timber without obtaining a Timber Utilization Contract (TUC) was made an offence. Going contrary to this provision attracts a fine of 1000% of the timber or imprisonment for 6 months to 2 years, and confiscation of the timber, tools, equipment and machinery.

Timber Resources Management Regulations, 1998 - L.I. 1649

This Legislative Instrument follows the Act 547 and provides rules and regulations to guide the implementation of Act 547. Under the Act 547, the contract holder enters into a contract with the Government to utilize and manage the timber resource on stated Terms and Conditions.

The Forestry Commission Act, 1999 - Act 571

This is an ACT to re-establish the Forestry Commission in order to bring under the Commission the main public bodies and agencies implementing the functions of protection, development, management and regulation of forests and wildlife resources and to provide for related matters. The Commission is a body corporate with perpetual succession and a common seal and may sue and be sued in its corporate name. The re-established Forestry Commission is responsible for the regulation of the utilization of forest and wildlife resources, the conservation and management of those resources and the co-ordination of policies related to them.

So Ghana's forest sector has not lacked regulations! Then, the question is, "how has these legislation impacted on our forest resources?"

Monday, July 11, 2011

Forest Sector Legislations and Regulations in Ghana

Let’s continue with our journey through Ghana’s forest Management in this International Year of Forests. After looking at the policies, we have now reached the “Forest Sector Legislation and Regulations in Ghana”. Policies without backing legislation are good as not existing because the legislation gives life and meaning to the policy and also ensures a successful implementation of the policy. At this stage, let’s concern ourselves with some historical background to Ghana’s forest laws and some pre-independence regulations in the forest sector.

A Historical background
The first enactment with a bearing on forests was the Native Jurisdiction Ordinance, 1883. This ordinance empowered traditional councils to make bye-laws to protect water courses and conserve forests (Agbosu, 1983). The response from timber merchants to the likely threat of restrictions on forest harvests was an immediate large scale increase in timber harvest for use as fuel and props in the mines and for exports to Europe.

The colonial administration then came up with the Forest Reservation and water Courses Protection Ordinance in 1889. This ordinance was to protect forests but according to Agbosu (1983) it never came into force because of objection from timber firms, the middle class and traditional authorities. The objection to this regulation was mainly because people the timber firms, the middle class and traditional authorities foresaw a negative effect on their business and profits. Other Ordinances that followed included the Concessions Ordinance to govern the acquisition of timber concessions; and the abortive Timber Protection Ordinance which sought to regulate some aspects of the timber trade. They were vehemently objected to by both the British merchants and the local middle-classed because of their selfish economic/monetary considerations. After much back and forth and objections to forest bills, it was not until 1927 that the first forest statute was passed.

The Forest Ordinance, 1927 – Cap 157
Cap 157 led to the creation of forest reserves. The ordinance vested power in an appointment of a Reserve Settlement Commissioner (RSC). The commissioner had the authority to listen and judge on claims of rights over a proposed area. The judgement of the RSC informed the government in publishing the final order making an area a forest reserve.

The Forests (Amendment) Ordinance, 1954
In 1954, Cap 157 was amended and there came “The Forests (Amendment) Ordinance, 1954”. It concerned the procedures in an enquiry by the Reserve Settlement Commissioner in respect of rights of a proposed Forest Reserve and procedures with a native Court. Among the amendments included a new definition of “Native Court” and it also introduced a “Native Appeal Court”. A “Native court meant a court constituted under the provisions of any Ordinance, but, notwithstanding the provisions of any Ordinance to the contrary, shall not include such Native Court, when sitting as a “Native Appeal Court”. ' Native Appeal Court ' means a court constituted as a Native Appeal Court under the provisions of any Ordinance, and sitting as such. The ordinance provided for dispute resolution with respect to ownership of land in reserves and differentiated the roles of the Native Court, Native Appeal Court and the Reserve Settlement Commissioner.

So, the resistance to forest laws in Ghana has a long history. The selfish interests of timber merchants and national authorities have been at the centre of non-adherence to our forest laws and regulations. The forest has always been seen as an avenue to make money and this interest has made enforcement of forest laws and regulations very difficult. Agbosu (1983) in an analysis of the forest regulations during the colonial era points out that the provisions in all the ordinances clearly showed that the colonial government was interested in the revenue it will get rather than protecting the forests. In the end one may ask, what the use of regulations is when it cannot give any life to the policies. In actual fact, these laws may be seen to be killing the policies. In the end, do we make laws for making sake?

Weak legal and judicial systems – where laws are not enforced and non-compliance and corruption are the norm – undermine respect for the rule of law, engender environmental degradation, and undermine progress towards sustainable development

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The 1994 Forest and Wildlife Policy of GHANA

"The best friend of earth of man is the tree. When we use the tree respectfully and economically, we have one of the greatest resources on the earth." - Frank Lloyd Wright

After over 40 years of implementing the 1948 Forest policy which had led to a trend towards what some early forest researchers had called the “timberisation” of forestry, there was the need for a new direction in managing Ghana's forest resources. How did it happen? Let's continue with our journey............

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ghana’s forests were under excessive exploitation, illegal harvesting led by chain saw operators was flourishing excessively and prescribed harvesting procedures were being flouted with impunity. Worst of all, forestry institutions had become demoralized and inefficient because of continued underfunding. Concerns and agitations from major stakeholders and growing global interests in forest loss culminated in the revision of the old forest policy and eventually, the new Forest and Wildlife policy in 1994 (MLF, 1994).

The overall aim of the Forest and Wildlife Policy, 1994, is conservation and sustainable development of the nation's forest and wildlife for maintenance of environmental quality and perpetual flow of benefits to all parts of society. The two fold aim of environmental quality and sustainable benefits had the following specific objectives:

i) Management and improvement of Ghana's permanent forest estate for preservation of soil and water, conservation of biological diversity, environmental stability and sustainable production of domestic and commercial products;

ii) Promotion of efficient forest-based industries, in secondary and tertiary processing, to use timber and other products from forests and wildlife and satisfy domestic and international demand with competitively priced products;

iii) Promotion of public awareness and involvement of rural people in forest and wildlife conservation to maintain life-sustaining systems, preserve scenic areas and enhance potential for recreation, tourism and income generating opportunities.

iv) Promotion of research-based and technology-led forestry and wildlife management to ensure forest sustainability, socio-economic growth and environmental stability;

v) Development of effective capacity and competence at district, regional and national levels for sustainable management of forest and wildlife.

This is 2011 so Ghana has been guided by the 1994 policy for about 17 years. There are issues to think about and the major ones are:

1. How has this policy contributed in the conservation and sustainable development of the nation's forest and wildlife for maintenance of environmental quality and perpetual flow of benefits to all parts of society?
2. Is it time for reviewing the policy or we need to wait for about 40 years.
3. Is the current Forest and Wildlife Policy still relevant in the climate change era?

"Clear cutting of our forests should be illegal, selective harvesting should be employed." - Catherine Pulisfer

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Lost in the Forest: A Journey Through Ghana’s Forest Management

"A people without children would face a hopeless future; a country without trees is almost as helpless". -Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), 26th President of the USA

Ghana has a long tradition of government interventions in forest management at different times all aimed at sustainable management of Ghana’s forest estate. The effects of the many interventions have contributed in getting the country to where it is in the management of our forests. As part of my contributions to the “International Year of Forests, 2011”, I would like us to take a journey through forest management in Ghana and see where we got lost and try to find our way back.

The very first formal National Forest Policy was adopted in 1948 following the visit and Report on Forests by H. N. Thompson, Conservator of Forests in Southern Nigeria, in 1908 (Owusu, 1999). Thompson’s report convinced the government of the need to take control of the forests following a series of failed attempts by the colonial government to properly manage the forests of Gold Coast (now Ghana).

The 1948 Ghana’s Forest policy:

The key issues in the policy were;

1. to reserve sufficient forests and forest lands to supply the benefits needed by the people;
2. manage the reserved forests for sustained yield of timber;
3.conduct research to support utilization and forest management;
4. utilize resources on non-reserved forest lands fully before their liquidation by farming;
5. promote local administration of forest and educate the local people to understand the value of forest; and
6. train staff or develop Africans to higher positions.

This policy directed forestry activities in Ghana over a long period of time, until 1994 when a new policy came into being. There are interesting things to note about the implementation of the 1948 Forest Policy;

1. Among all the key issues in the 1948 policy, the colonial government and subsequent governments after independence in 1957 seem to have focused more on the exploitation of forest resources, mainly timber.
2. Promotion of local administration of forestry, for instance, received very little attention though it was seen as very crucial to the sustainable management of the forest.
3. The economic benefits of forests were actively pursued and the ecological importance was side-lined.
4. Research to support utilisation and forest management received little attention. Rather, research was focused more on economically viable tree species to be harvested for export.

The direction of this policy led to increasing emphasis on central government administration, control and ownership of the country’s forests. Local people’s involvement in forest management was not pursued as the policy had stated. According to Owusu (1999), there were an increasing marginalisation and even alienation, of local communities in the administration of forests; a trend towards forestry being practised only by foresters for the nation’s benefit; and a trend towards what some early forest researchers have called the “timberisation” of forestry. This was the state of Ghana’s forests from the post-independence period to the late 1980s.

"He who plants a tree plants a hope".– Welsh proverb


Gyampoh, B.A., (2008). “The Sustainable Forest Management puzzle: policies, legislation, deforestation and the climate change issues in Ghana”. Sustainable Forest Management in Africa Symposium, 3rd to 8th November 2008. University of Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Owusu, J. G. K., (1999). Policies and Legislation concerning Forests, Forestry and Wildlife. Proceedings, Workshop for Media Personnel on Forestry and Wildlife Reporting. IRNR-UST, 6-11 June 1999.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Christians Destroying The Environment To The Glory Of God?

“I know quite certainly that I myself have no special talent; curiosity, obsession and dogged endurance, combined with self-criticism, have brought me to my ideas” – Albert Einstein.

Whenever I have had cause to criticise myself and the Christian faith that I strongly believe in has turned out to be both torturous and rewarding. Being a Christian, in my opinion, should automatically make one an Environmentalist! After all, the God we claim to be worshipping created everything around us and it must be part of our conviction to protect what God has created. But when I see so-called Christians destroying what the God they claim to be worshipping has created, it saddens me. What even makes it sad is when they use quotes from The Bible to ignorantly endorse what they are doing. A popular scripture mostly misunderstood or mischievously twisted to suit such bad treatment of the environment to meet selfish desires is God command to subdue the earth in Genesis 1:28, “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

There are so many churches built in flood plains and it beats my mind when I see such things. These churches have blocked water courses and creating big problems for people when it rains and they believe they are worshiping God! I feel bad when I see such things. Go to a suburb of Kumasi called Susanso (off KNUST-Amakom Road) and see a number of churches all built in a water way. These churches are blocking the flow of the river and causing flooding whenever it rains. Is that what God would like? That we destroy what He has created and create inconveniences for others because "we want to worship Him”?

One Sunday morning, after returning from Church service around 10:00 GMT, I was listening to a radio station in Kumasi which was broadcasting a church service of one church also built in a water way. The pastor was teaching the congregation on the need to have FAITH in God despite all odds and I was enjoying the sermon. To my anger and dismay, I heard the Pastor recounting how the church building came to be. According to him the whole place was marshy but he decided to build there to the glory of God (Indeed!). He recounted how his friend who is an architect advised him to stop because building at such a place because it would be impossible. The pastor continued, “I didn’t give up, I promised my friend that I will build the church. And today you are here and can testify the church has been built. If I should tell you the amount of money spent on cement, stones and sand to fill this place in order to get this building put up, you will marvel. But it has been done to the glory of God”. Throughout the uttering of these things, the congregation shouted, “Amen”, Praise the Lord”, etc. I was amazed! Whaaaaaaat? Destroying God’s creation to the glory of God? God knew why he created a river there and made that land marshy! The Bible says that God created everything. “…. And God saw that it was good! (Genesis 1:21). And those who claim to be worshiping the God who created everything are now destroying everything! It’s a shame.

And so, it has been happening. Through ignorance, selfishness and mischief, Christians are destroying their environment. The Bible recognises the value of all things God created and we are to treat God’s creation with care and respect. Let’s seek knowledge and live well.

“My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

International Year of Forests: Focus on Ghana’s Forests

“Man is preceded by forest and followed by desert” – French Proverb.

Fifty-four (54) years ago, Ghana gained independence from British colonial rule. Each year, huge amounts of money are spent to celebrate our independence anniversaries, including the famous “Ghana@50”. After Ghana@50, a probe was set up to investigate how those monies were managed. That’s great! I wish that Ghanaians start taking keen interest in probing how we have managed the various sectors of our country. How we have managed our natural resources should engage our attention at the highest level. Ghana is well endowed with several natural resources including tropical rainforests, which has been a major source of revenue for the country. Ghana’s forests have influenced its climate, soil and water resources which have supported Ghana’s agricultural sector, the backbone of the country’s economy. Cocoa, which has been so central to Ghana’s development, has been influenced by the forest’s micro-climate.

With such a critical role being played by forests, it just stands to reason that more effort will be channelled into making this resource sustainable and stay in good shape. However, sustainable management of Ghana’s forest has been a major issue for successive governments since colonial times. Available records indicate that at the beginning of the last century, a third of Ghana’s total land area of 238,540 squared kilometres was covered by high forest whiles the remaining land was covered by savanna woodland (Antwi, 1999). Unfortunately, this forest cover has seen rapid depletion in the last 100 years; especially in the last 50 years where sustainable forest management is being trumpeted everywhere.

One cannot think of achieving sustainable forest management without policies to guide decision making on the use of the resource and legislation to provide legal backing to those policies (Owusu, 1999); and that is an area Ghana is not new to. As early as 1908, a report on Ghana’s forests was presented to the colonial government by H.N. Thompson in which he recommended establishment of a Forestry Department; creation of forest reserves; and some regulation of timber felling and exports. Thompson’s report formed the basis for the colonial government’s forest policy. After the recommendations from Thompson, there has been several interventions in the form of ordinances, policies and legislation all aimed at regulating activities in the forest sector but little seems to have been achieved. Some have attributed the reduction of Ghana’s forest to the failure of Ghana's Forestry policies and strategies to ensure that forest resources were managed on economically viable, socially beneficial and environmentally sound principles.

This year, 2011, is the United Nations’ International Year of Forests, under the theme: “Celebrating Forests for People”. Let’s throw more light on Ghana’s forests. Ghana is having a fair share of global environmental problems: change in weather patterns; recurrent droughts severely affecting agricultural activities; flooding; soil erosion; habitat destruction which is threatening biodiversity; water pollution; decreasing river discharge and inadequate supplies of potable water. How does the disappearance of our forests fit into this puzzle? What should be done to sustainably manage our forests?

“The forest will answer you in the way you call to it” – Finnish Proverb.

Antwi, L. B., (1999). What we have: Our Forest Heritage. Proceedings, Workshop for Media Personnel on Forestry and Wildlife Reporting. IRNR-UST, 6-11 June 1999.
Owusu, J. G. K., (1999). Policies and Legislation concerning Forests, Forestry and Wildlife. Proceedings, Workshop for Media Personnel on Forestry and Wildlife Reporting. IRNR-UST, 6-11 June 1999.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ghana Meteorological Agency (GMet) and the climate change adaptation process

The impact of changing climate in Ghana is so evident even to the ordinary man on the street. One does not have to be a farmer who depends on solely rainfall to plant his crops to notice that there has been a major change in our rainfall pattern. The excessive heat in recent years is felt by all and how many of us have not paused once to wonder how warm our world is becoming? Some of us living in the urban areas like Accra and Kumasi may not be depending directly on streams and rivers for our water needs like the people in Adubinsu and Mmoframfaadwen do, so we may not be seeing at first hand the drying of streams and rivers. However, since our water invariably comes from dams built on rivers whose sources are drying up, we are equally vulnerable.

Whether we stop producing greenhouse gases (very impossible) or not, we are already committed to some level of climate change and there is the need to adapt to these changes since we have nowhere else but this earth to stay. How then can Ghana adapt to the impacts of climate change? Effective adaptation to impacts of climate change requires a careful assessment of impacts of and vulnerability to climate change and subsequently working out adaptation needs of the people. A critical requirement of such an exercise is good quality information. This is where the usefulness of institutions such as the Ghana Meteorological Agency (GMet) cannot be over-emphasised. GMet is mandated to collect climatic information for further development into useable products for the country. Where the capacity for collecting such relevant information and assessing climate change is not adequate, our ability to plan adaptation measures and adapt effectively becomes highly constrained.

A cursory look around the few GMet stations scattered around the country will give even a day-old baby an idea of how resourced the agency is in leading the country’s adaptation efforts. Ghana cannot go on like this. We cannot plan adaptation strategies in a vacuum! We cannot just guess what is likely to happen by how we feel or what some people elsewhere say. We need to know the current situation to project what is likely to happen in the future judging from the current situation, before any meaningful climate change adaptation strategies can be planned. This entails improved observations; improved regional, national and global data, as well as denser networks; recovery of historical data; building of support among user communities that have a demand for climate information; and promoting greater collaboration between providers and users of climate information.

My contact with the Ghana Meteorological Agency (GMet) has always left me thinking about how serious Ghana is when it comes to issues of climate change; something that threatens food production and water resources, life and death. GMet needs major attention. This agency is critical to the security of our country! Some serious attention should be paid at providing the Agency with the needed equipment for effective climate observation. There should be more observation stations in many parts of the country to ensure effective monitoring. GMet staff needs regular and constant upgrading to help them catch up with the fast evolving field of climate science. The many self-motivated, hardworking and enthusiastic young men and women at the agency has should be helped to help this country.

Friday, January 21, 2011


In December 2009, Kosmos Energy was reported to have spilled about 600 barrels of low toxicity oil-based mud in its exploratory operations in the Jubilee Fields in Ghana. That was not all, between that time and May 2010, two other discharges of Low Toxicity Oil Based Mud (LTOBM) was said to have been discharged by Kosmos Energy into the marine waters of Ghana. With this kind of spillage at this early stage of commercial oil drilling in Ghana, I was dismayed as an environmentalist but was also that this was a good time for Ghana to get things right once and for all. I was convinced that the sad state in which gold mining has left most of our communities will propel the government of the day, into whose hands the managing of this country has been entrusted, to wake up and put things right in the oil sector.

A committee was set up by the Environment Minister to investigate the causes of the spillage and recommend punitive measure where necessary. I was very glad that such a bold step was being taken. This was no small committee as it had membership from the Ghana Maritime Authority, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, and the Ghana Environmental Conventions Coordinating Authority. It was chaired by the deputy minister of Environment. After several meetings and consultations, the committee established that the unfortunate spillages were as a result of negligence on the part of Kosmos Energy and made recommendations on how to prevent and handle issues related to oil spillage in future. Accordingly, Kosmos Energy was fined an amount of 35 million dollars. I was glad when that news came up!

Then the actual story began: Kosmos Energy writes a strong-worded letter to the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, copied to the president of Ghana in which they are said to have described the fine as “totally unlawful, unconstitutional, ultra vires and without basis” and ask the Attorney-General to use her “best offices and endeavours to halt a process that legally and procedurally is fatally flawed”. Well, I am not a lawyer and will not attempt to interpret the big words used here. However, one thing was clear, Kosmos Energy refuses to pay! And what did the government do? The government seemed clueless and helpless! Poor Ghana! A company operating in our Country has been found to have negligently caused harm to our marine resources and has been fine; and the country rubbishes the government’s decision to fine them. They do not defend themselves as saying they did no such thing but rather question the power of the Minister under our constitution or any other law of Ghana to impose a fine on any person in the event of an oil spillage. Isn’t this too interesting? How prepared are we as country in handling this oil thing? It is not enough to mine the oil, the effects of such an activity on our life should be paramount but we are bent on failing and nothing seems to stop us.

I had not giving up yet. I was still convinced that Ghana will set a good precedence. Then on December 20, 2010, I heard the news “KOSMOS ENERGY REACHES SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT WITH GHANAIAN GOVERNMENT AND GHANA NATIONAL PETROLEUM CORPORATION”. A part of the press release by Kosmos energy read “Separately, Kosmos and the Ministry of Science, Environment and Technology have agreed to a solution with respect to the “accidental mud discharges” offshore Ghana earlier this year whereby Kosmos would support the Ministry’s efforts to build capacity in the environmental sector. Folks, that was all. That was all! We have set precedence. Whether it is a good precedence or not is for all of us to think about.

Ghana, as a country is so blessed in several dimensions. Wherever one turns to, the signs of the blessings of God upon this country are evident. However, Ghanaians have over the years worked so hard to ridicule the God who has blessed us so abundantly by turning all that is provided for our good into despicable disasters. But through this all, we are always giving an undeserving second, or I think by now we have even reached the hundredth, chance to get it right. But we seem so bent on getting it wrong that nothing seems capable of stopping us.