Despite the dry and poor vegetation cover in the Northern parts of Ghana, some illegal timber merchants have invaded the West and North Gonja Districts and have engaged the youth in felling large volumes of Rosewood and sending them out of the country for export. It has now become a common sight to see long convoys of 40 footer heavy duty trucks parked on the streets of Damongo waiting to be loaded and transported out of Damongo.
It is sad to observe that, at a time that the world is focused on reducing deforestation and degradation and working towards a global mechanism in marshaling resources to deal with the environmental crisis from the effects of Climate Change and desertification, we watch unconcerned for the illegal activities of some timber merchants to plunder the scarce biological resources in the northern Ghana. These merchants enrich themselves and the few people in these localities whose hands they have to grease to enable them carry out such nefarious activities at the detriment of the majority who depend on natural resources for their livelihoods.
The illegal activities of these timber merchants are leading to serious deforestation and degradation of the last remnants of forest cover in the northern parts of Ghana. These timber merchants come with permits with specific instructions on what volumes of wood to collect.
They also carry specific indication of the type of wood, whether dead or alive. This notwithstanding, the timber merchants under the cover of their original permits are using the opportunity to cut and launder Rosewood from their operational areas. The illegally felled Rosewood logs are cut into 3 meters sized logs and transported by trucks out of Damongo and surrounding areas such as Sor No 1 and 2, Larabanga, Kaden, Yazori, Kopoto, Busunu, Kpulumbo, Bawena, all in the West and North Gonja Districts of the Northern Region of Ghana.
The modus operandi of these timber merchants are violating the integrity of the natural and cultural heritage of Gonjaland; in clear violation of the Forest and Wildlife Protection Laws of the country and finally in violation of Ghana’s commitments to the International Convention on Biodiversity (CBD). Clearly, by allowing this to go on, we are already eroding the expected benefits of the greening the north policy and programs under the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority.
The illegal activities of these timber merchants are leaving behind bare and dry spaces, destroying local vegetation and wildlife ecosystems which provide immeasurable ecosystem functions and services critical for survival in the savannah zones of Ghana. Also, in the long-term their illegal activities will contribute to accelerating desertification in the region, with its attendant negative effects on people’s health, livelihoods and cultural heritage.
Additionally, the loss of trees and local biodiversity in the landscapes as a result of these unsustainable logging practices will seriously exacerbate the already scarce water resources in the northern parts of Ghana and compromise the ability of people leaving in the north to stay resilient and adapt to the negative effects of global warming.
I have to admit that these illegal activities have come with short-term financial benefits, more for the timber merchants first, with the bread crumbs going to the locals engaged for the felling and loading activities. Rightly so, every illegal high return economic activity seems good in its time, but its long-term negative effects linger on for many generations. I recall how 64 containers of rosewood impounded by the Ministry of Lands and Forestry got lost in the process of investigation. This can only point to the fact, the syndicate involved in this illegal trade, if any, is well connected.
It is therefore urgent and critical, that steps are taken by the concerted efforts of the Forestry Commission, the Police Commands responsible, and the royal leadership of Gonjaland to arrest this problem before the environmental crisis created by these illegal activities gets out of hand.
It will be generationally suicidal and a great social and environmental injustice for state agencies responsible to look on, without real commitment and efforts and allow the selfish interest of a few individuals, erode the right of the majority to a sustainable environment. The looming environmental and social crisis from the effects of Climate Change makes it even more critical that the carnage been committed by these illegal chain saw activities of timber merchants in these two Districts and other places in Northern Ghana are halted with the urgency it deserves.
It is important to note that our actions or inaction now will leave these two Districts wrestling with a deforested and degraded landscape with serious and long-term negative effects on life sustaining ecosystems functions and services as well as reduce the capacity of the already stressed semi-arid lands to continue to support the livelihoods of people living and deriving their livelihoods from the land.