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.