Forests and woodland ecosystems provide important goods and services that contribute to Ghana’s national economy and support to many local communities. For instance, forest rents contributed about 6.5 percent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2016, according to World Bank’s Ghana Country Environmental Analysis 2020.

In addition, these ecosystems are integral parts of local economies providing support for the livelihood of local communities. Biomass from forests and woodlands serves as a major primary source of energy and income for most communities. 

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Recent estimates by Energy for Sustainable Development Journal (2018) show that over 1.6 million tons of charcoal is produced annually in the country, bringing in an annual profit of about US$66 million.

Forests also support many ecosystem services including clean water, stream flow regulation, flood control, and carbon storage, as well as provide critical habitat for plant and animal species and traditional/cultural identity to communities. 

However, these ecosystems have been degraded, fragmented or cleared for other purposes through direct human activities such as illegal mining (especially ‘galamsay’), slash and burn agriculture, excessive logging, charcoal production and firewood collection and many other indirect factors. Estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) suggest that about 4,300 hectares (rate of 0.1 percent per year) of forests were cleared annually between 2010 and 2020. 

The continued loss of forest and woodland resources has led to high economic and environmental costs including eroding the soil and water resources capital that support most community livelihoods, biodiversity loss and climate change. 

In 2020, the World Bank estimated that the cost of deforestation to Ghana in the last 30 years is about US$400 million annually, which is equivalent to 0.7 percent of the country’s 2017 GDP. In fact, Ghana’s net forest depletion as a percentage of the Gross National Income (GNI) is among the top countries classified as Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs).  

Despite this grim picture, the high rate of forest and woodland loss is gaining attention at all levels of society, and actions are being taken to address it. Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR) has emerged as a viable pathway to achieve multiple objectives of restoring the ecological integrity of degraded ecosystems, and to improve the livelihoods of local communities. 

The concept of FLR goes beyond tree planting - it is a landscape approach, which holistically addresses the underlying drivers of forest loss and degradation. Consequently, several initiatives have been adopted at the global and national levels to restore degraded ecosystems. Key among these initiatives at the global level is the Bonn Challenge, launched in 2011 by the government of Germany and The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a global commitment to bring under restoration 150 million hectares of land by 2020.

The New York Declaration on Forests endorsed and built upon this goal in 2014, committing to a global target of 350 million hectares by 2030. Other initiatives such as the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100) and the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), have become important global drivers to achieve environmental sustainability. So far, 61 countries have pledged to bring several million hectares of deforested and degraded lands under restoration. 

In 2015, Ghana pledged to bring 2 million hectares of degraded land under restoration by 2030 in support of the Bonn Challenge and AFR100. The urgent need to redeem this pledge, coupled with the realization that restoration could potentially contribute to climate change mitigation strategies and could be used to address poverty issues in local communities have led to various measures being taken to mainstream FLR principles into national land use policies, sectorial plans and strategies, and providing the right conditions for other stakeholders to invest in landscape restoration. 

In 2016, the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources and the Forestry Commission launched the Ghana Forest Plantation Strategy (GFPS, 2016-2040), which is currently under revision, as the main blueprint for FLR implementation in the country to expand plantations of both native and exotic tree species at an annual rate of 20,000 hectares, and use strategies such as agroforestry, woodlot establishment, enrichment planting and watershed restoration as options to be pursued to restore degraded lands. 

Creating favorable policy environment has culminated into the implementation of multitude of FLR/landscape restoration and evergreening projects by different stakeholders including government agencies, the private sector and international and local Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Community-based Organizations (CBOs). Often, the goal is to restore damaged ecosystems and improve the well-being of local communities. Altogether, these projects have delivered on multitude of benefits at the local and national levels. 

These efforts in the last few years have succeeded in placing 628,338 hectares of degraded lands under restoration (RestorationBarometer_V9.pdf), which is about 31 percent of the total Bonn Challenge target of 2 million hectares. On average, an area of 62,833 hectares was brought under restoration annually in the last decade through restoration interventions such as plantations and woodlots, natural regeneration, mangrove restoration, urban greening, watershed protection and silvicultural activities. These restoration projects have also delivered many benefits, including sequestering over 21 million tCO2eand supporting the conservation of endemic and endangered plant and animal species. At the local level, the projects have contributed to enhancing the participation of land users, including women in the governance and management of natural resources, improved crop yield and helped farmers diversify their income sources. 

The success of these projects/activities has mainly been anchored on the strong involvement of local communities who are the direct beneficiaries of restoration activities. However, major challenges remain, including inadequate funding and the lack of proper monitoring and evaluation framework. In addition, there are serious governance gaps such as the lack of coordination among stakeholders at various levels and little public awareness on the effectiveness of landscape restoration interventions to address deforestation, forest degradation and the climate change crises. To conclude, FLR offers enormous opportunity for the country to adopt interventions that address the complex and interrelated underlying drivers of forests and woodland degradation at the landscape scale. 

Shalom D. Addo-Danso, PhD, is a Consultant and Senior Research Scientist with CSIR-Forestry Research Institute of Ghana.

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