Hotline documentary: How illegal rosewood logging thrived despite gov’t ban  

Hotline documentary: How illegal rosewood logging thrived despite gov’t ban  
Source: Ghana| |Joseph Opoku Gakpo | Joy News
Date: 08-06-2019 Time: 07:06:27:am

In late 2013, former Minister for Lands and Natural Resources Inusah Fuseini addressed a media briefing to announce government’s ban on the harvesting and export of the endangered tree species, rosewood.

“Effective 1st January 2014, the harvesting and exporting of rosewood from this country is banned until further notice,” he told the media briefing.

The decision was necessitated by the overharvesting of the species in the savannah belt of the country throughout the former Brong Ahafo, Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions, as well as some parts of the Volta and Eastern Regions. 

Rosewood is a hard timber species with durable, distinct looking grain which takes more than one hundred years to mature. They are wild species which are not cultivated; they grow by themselves. 

As environmental activist Fatawu Ayamga explains, rosewood is used for “the interior design of ships - the luxurious and expensive ones, the interior design of planes - the expensive ones, we are told they use it to make gun butt because it's durable.”

Environmental activist Fatawu Ayamga

“The most expensive bed in the world is made up of rosewood species. So you can see how valuable the species is,” he added. 

A lot of the rosewood trees are harvested and exported to China and to Europe. Before the ban was announced, it was estimated within a spate of three years, more than half of all the available species in the Savannah belt had been harvested and exported. Subsequent Lands and Natural Resources Ministers Nii Osah Mills and John Peter Amewu renewed the ban in late 2014, and 2017respectively. 

Current Lands and Natural Resources Minister Kwaku Asumah Kyeremeh says the ban is still in force. “Rosewood, indeed, there is a ban on the harvesting of this particular species. Because of the ban, nobody can go to the forest or the grounds to harvest rosewood,” he said in response to a Joy news question at a media briefing.

Checks on the ground 

But checks show the harvesting of rosewood is still happening. Joy News’ Hotline Documentary paid a visit to the Tumu Forest Reserve in the Sissala East District and discovered the harvesting of the species is rampant. 

After about an hour’s walk into the forest reserve, we observed cut rosewood stems dispersed in different parts of the forest. Using heavy machinery, the illegal loggers cut the tree from the upper part of the root, leaving the rest of the stem sitting there. We counted at least six of them along the path to a stream that runs through the forest reserve. 

We saw some of the cut down trees lying in the forests as if nobody wants them with the leaves still green and thick liquid dripping off them. The loggers would return in the middle of the night to pack them out. Beside the stream, we counted about 20 such freshly cut rosewood trees separately from the about 6 spotted along the path. 

Minister’s reaction 

When the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources was quizzed on this, he insisted the downed trees could only be that which were cut down before the ban came into force. “All those dealing in rosewood today are people who had earlier harvested and we have some areas where we gave permission for them to salvage, so if you see few people dealing with rosewood, that is the reason,” he claimed.

But the cut rosewoods we observed were clearly, freshly cut ones. The leaves were green. Fresh thick liquids were still dripping off them. Screeches of tires of large vehicles that conveyed the timber out of the forests were still visible on the ground. Fatawu Ayamga who led us into the forest reserve claimed; “they were cut less than a week ago.” 

The Forest Protection Act 174 is categorical that “a person who causes damage by negligence in felling a tree in a forest reserve commits an offence and is liable to a summary conviction to a fine not exceeding 500 penalty units or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years or both.” But no one has ever been jailed over these destructions in the Tumu Forest reserve. 

Felling in other areas 

In other areas in the Upper East and Upper West regions including Kassena Nankana, Builsa North, Builsa South, Talensi and Bawku districts, the illegal logging of rosewood trees have been happening as well. 

Presiding member of the Builsa South District Assembly AjukRichard claims officials of the Forestry Commission have been compromised to allow for the illegal business to thrive. “I have a problem with the forestry commission; anytime the illegal activity is going on and you report to them, they won't come,” he said. 

“Clearly, from what is going on, if they are not compromised, I don't think someone will come and say 'I have a certificate to convey' and you don't know what the person is going to convey and you have given the person the permission to go into the forest; to go and do what?'. So for me, there is an issue of compromising along the line,” Ajuk added.

District Chief Executive for Builsa South Daniel Kwame Gariba says lots of measures have been rolled out to stop the cutting of rosewoods including establishing a taskforce but admits they have had a challenge stopping it completely. 

When quizzed on the evidence of continuous felling of the trees as had been uncovered by the Joy news team, he said; “I’m surprised to hear this! We are not discounting the fact that people may not stop involvement in this exercise but what I’m saying is; whoever is doing it now is doing it undercover. But before, it was so open.” 

Issued permits

Analysts believe government’s handling of the rosewood cutting menace has been nothing but shambolic. Despite the ban on its harvesting since 2014, government claims it was concerned that a large number of rosewood logs had been felled before the ban came into force.

Government also claimed some other rosewood species had fallen as a result of heavy storm and other natural circumstances across the savannah and transitional zones which could lose their economic value. 

The Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources thus issued salvage permits to at least 22 companies between 2016and 2018 to convey the lying logs. They include NicdamVentures Limited, Igram Company Limited, Trans-Atlantic Logistics Limited, Musco Asante Limited, JusdalPlus Company Limited, Chrisgyaf Company Limited, Kamvis Company Limited, Delwinde Enterprise, MemboLimited, Sontruk Investment Limited and Xylogi Limited.

The rest are Turnsole Furniture Company Limited, JB Connect Limited, Royal Space, Attakey Limited, Trucking and Construction Limited, Ghanwood Limited, System Environ-Tech, K. Gyamfuaa Company Limited, Kenasa Plus Limited, Steve Abundant Grace and SoftradeImpex Limited. 

Builsa South DCE Daniel Gariba is convinced these companies are responsible for the fresh felling. “Their excuse has always been that they are not cutting fresh woods but are salvaging woods that have been cut down in the forest. I don't believe that because I have gone on operation a number of times and you see the woods have been cut fresh. But Forestry Commission will come in and say it's a salvaged wood and not freshly cut wood,” he said. 

Activist Bawa Ayamga says he is disappointed in government. 

“I would like to, first of all, express my disappointment at especially this current government, who even campaigned on the protection of our vegetation; (They) have come into power and giving permission to people we are told is in a form of compensation to come into our fragile vegetative cover to harvest the rosewood,” he said. 

Moses Luri who is CEO of local development NGO SLIDEP says the state of confusion in the policy direction is not healthy. “How can you ban and at the same time sign a certificate for conveyance,” he quizzed. 

Member of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee Dr. Clement Apaak wants government to sit up and deal with the perpetrators of the destructive act. “I have called for the setting up of a task force similar to the one that we have dealing with the issue of galamsey because most of these guys who are contracted by these companies to cut down the trees are armed. And they are well resourced.We need to adopt a very radical approach to resolve this issue,” he said. 

Watch the full Hotline Documentary; Killing Our Roses which aired in February 2019 on Joy News TV on the link below: