The overland trade in wood and wood products in Ghana is a vibrant one but largely illegal, says a new study by the Forestry Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG).

Aside Ghana increasing its efforts to address illegal logging and milling to secure the supply of legal timber to the domestic market, the country has to pay special attention to the overland export of timber.

The study focused on estimating the size of the trade and its implications for policy to supply legal timber to the domestic market.

It is under the EU-funding project “Securing the integration of legal and legitimate markets into Voluntary Partnership Agreements” being implemented by Tropenbos International and partners.

Ghana has a long history as a major supplier of high-value hardwood timber and wood products to European, Asian and African markets. 

The country has signed a Voluntary Partnership Agreement with the European Union, with a commitment not only to export legal wood but those on the domestic market are to be sourced and traded legally.

Through a multi-stakeholder process, a domestic lumber supply policy has been developed as one of the first steps to deal with the unmet demand for domestic lumber.

The policy places emphasis on overland export of the timber from Ghana as affecting the volumes of wood available for local consumption. It is also a driving force for illegal chainsaw milling.

The conservative estimated volume of wood exported annually across the northern borders of Ghana alone is 250,000m3 – mainly illegal chainsaw lumber – which is equivalent to some 825,083m3 of round logs. At least 130,000m3 of overland lumber exports comes from the major timber markets alone.

This implies that some 120,000m3 of lumber may be exported overland directly from production sites and from minor timber markets.

The main markets for these overland exports are Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Nigeria. The latter two countries provide the major market for Ghana’s timber and wood products. Nigeria’s importation of mainly plywood and lumber from 2005 to 2012 has averaged an annual volume of 78,000 m3 valued at over Euros 24.04 million.

These exports go through approved exit points at the borders, particularly at Aflao on the south eastern corridor as well as Paga, Hamile and Tumu all on the northern frontier of the country.

The study pointed out that the main trade of lumber occurs at recognized timber markets, mainly Techiman and Kumasi-Sokoban, as well as direct procurement from producers at loading sites closer to production areas.

The study revealed that about 62% of the volume of timber traded in these two major markets – mainly illegal chainsaw lumber – was exported overland mainly to Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali. About 54% of the lumber exported overland from these two markets was transported to Burkina Faso accounting for 54% of trade (estimated 46,031m3 of lumber end up on Ouagadougou markets). 

In the context of VPA implementation, the overland export trade presents a challenge, in terms of how chainsaw lumber transported across the border can come under a legality regime.

There is the need to test how the wood tracking system developed under the VPA can help track such timber and help control the illegal trade, the study recommended.

Moreover, the institutional arrangements and governance of overland timber trade needs a complete review – in particular, how to improve documentation and data capture of the trade, both from timber markets and at national borders, institute a collaborative system that guarantees effective coordination among agencies and to improve transparency at the borders are crucial.

In conclusion, the study says national stakeholder meeting and a dedicated multi-stakeholder team should work out institutional reforms towards these goals are urgent.