The illegal logging of the expensive rosewood species has continued in the northern parts of Ghana despite a 2014 government ban, destroying the lives of residents there.
“Effective 1st January 2014, the harvesting and exporting of rosewood from this country is banned until further notice,” former Minister for Lands and Natural Resources Inusah Fuseini told a media briefing in late 2013. His successors have claimed the ban is still in force.
But official figures from the Forestry Commission confirm exports have still been ongoing. According to the “report on the export of timber and wood products; January 2018” prepared by the Forestry Commission, ‘God is Able Company Limited’ exported 1,205 metric cube volume of rosewood out of the country that month, earning €882,445.
A copy of the document available to Joy News shows in that same month, Chinese firm Dong Li Trading Limited bought €2.029 million worth of rosewood from Ghana.
The trend continued throughout the year and in May 2018 for example, Debabs Investment Company Limited also exported €270,000 worth of rosewood from the country.
The trend was the same in 2017 and in December that year, the official Forestry Commission documents show ‘Pok and U Company Limited’ exported €1.239 million worth of rosewood from the country in that month alone.
Communities where these trees are being harvested from are facing the brunt of the impact of this illegal trade as residents of Tumu in the Sissala East Municipality complain.
“We have some enclaves here that even in the dry season when our animals do not get grass to graze on, those particular areas would always have them fresh. But since they started harvesting the rosewood, you cannot even find fresh grass at these areas,” Ayamga Fatawu who leads a task force working voluntarily to stop the illegal felling of rosewood in the enclave told Joy news.
“And we used to have cattle being moved from Burkina Faso to those areas and whenever they brought them to these fresh zones, they pay before grazing but we don't have them anymore since they started cutting these trees,” Ayamga added.
Ayamga Fatawu talking to Joy News
“And I can also tell you, before the cutting of rosewood, these armyworms that have invaded our farm crops, especially the maize crops, they used to feed on the rosewood leaves and now that we are dislocating them from their habitats, they are compelled to dwell on our crops,” the 33-year-old claimed.
Killing as a result of rosewood
Some deaths have been recorded as a result of the activities of the illegal rosewood merchants. There was an incident at a village called Tafiase in the Sissala East Municipality where a child got killed through the activities of rosewood loggers.
“They parked the tractor with the log and it happened that the child was there. The vehicle wasn't on any break and had no chock to prevent the movement and all that they could realise was it moved backwards, killed the child and pushed down the building and all happened as a result of rosewood activities,” a local journalist told Joy news.
In the Wa East District as well, one person died earlier this year when a gunfight erupted over the ownership of illegally harvested rosewood in the area.
District Chief Executive Moses Jotie narrated how “some residents went ahead to the bush to confiscate the rosewood and that actually resulted in the clash of the two groups and three people were seriously injured and one died.”
“Some of the intestines were out, so we had to quickly rush him to the theatre,” Medical Superintendent at the Upper West Regional Hospital Dr Banabas Gandau, said of one of the survivors, in an interview with Joy news’ Rafiq Salam. A second injured person died days later.
Another community, Baachonsa in the Upper West region has been hit severely with illegal rosewood logging activities. The community members complain that now, the branches of the tree are not available for their use locally anymore because it’s all been cut and carted out of the forests.
“The branches, we use them to make our local homes. We can cut something we call supporters and use the branches to make roof upstairs. This is what the tree meant for our community,” opinion leader Francis Apusi explained. But now the rosewoods are no more available.
He also complains the destruction of the forests is making it difficult for them to get enough rains for farming activities.
“A long ago we had more rains more than this time. That is why they have been saying that the cutting of the trees is bringing that disaster,” Mr Apusi noted.
Streams that run across the community continue to dry up because of rising temperature. And when rivers and streams get dry, everything is affected. Even animals are being forced to walk long distances to get water. “When the animals go that far, they don't come back,” he lamented.
Mr Apusi claims the community is powerless in stopping the loggers because “they come with a permit from government to cut the trees.”
Wealthy but deprived
In Jaasa, a community of about 200 people in the Upper West Region, basic amenities including water, educational infrastructure and electricity are non-existent. The hundreds of residents share a single borehole. Here, Joy news found freshly cut rosewoods that have been deposited awaiting haulage.
Abiakoru Atiga who is Sub Chief of Jaasa says although the valuable trees are being cut in the forests, the community is not feeling the benefits of it. They have appealed to the timber merchants to drill a borehole for them as part of their corporate social responsibility but they have not done it.
Primary school children in the community learn under dilapidated structures made of wood. Junior High School students who attend school in a nearby community don’t go to class when it rains because of the absence of a proper bridge to the community. They have asked the timber merchants for a bridge but they have again refused to support the community.
Here too, the residents have local use for the rosewood trees. They chop off the backside, soak in water and use the resulting liquid to paint their homes. But now, all the trees are gone.
They also lament the situation is having a drastic impact on their livelihoods.
“Because of the weather, how they are felling the trees, the rains couldn't come as we expected them because of the falling of the trees; in fact, we are suffering,” one of them told Joy News.
Moses Luri who is CEO of local development NGO SLIDEP says the situation threatens the very life of people.
“By now they should have planted crops but we still haven't had enough rains. There is a drastic change as far as our climate system is concerned which was not the case about six years ago,” he said.
Community leaders are unhappy. “Removing the forest cover is also going to expose the land to erosion. Taking the forest cover also means that you are starving livestock.
“Dealing with the forest cover negatively as it's being done, is also going to affect the water resources and that is why this issue should be seen as a national crisis. The rural-urban migration we continue to complain about is only going to be worse,” Dr Clement Apaak noted.
He says even government’s flagship irrigation programme is also under threat as a result of the illegal activity.
“And when there is a lack of water, this so-called 'One Village One Dam' project when you even drill you won't even get water left alone to use farming. So it's a huge challenge to government, which it urgently needs to take a serious look at,” he noted.
When the last tree dies, the last man dies…That’s a timeless quote that is certainly relevant today considering the illegal rosewood harvesting issue. We can only hope someone is paying attention.
Watch the full Hotline Documentary; Killing Our Roses which aired in February 2019 on Joy News TV.