Ghana Forest Flip


“Our forest cover, which stood at 8.6 million hectares by the turn of 19th century, now stands at 1.8 million hectares. ” This sad indictment is how the Chief Executive of Ghana’s Forestry Commission marked International Forest Day in 2014. Read more

Ghana has seen one of the most dramatic losses in forest cover in Africa, driven by the country’s voracious timber industry. Annual timber production is widely reported as three times what the country’s scientists regard as sustainable.

The forest sector shows clear signs of capture by vested interests in industry and politics. Over the past decade timber companies have managed to lobby government to keep taxes on production low, out of sync with rises in inflation and international timber prices. As a result, US$16 million in potential revenue was forfeited from state coffers between 2003 and 2013.

Unofficial subsidies of this kind are symptomatic of what Ghanaians refer to as the ‘timberisation’ of forest policy. Between 2009 and 2012, Global Witness and local forest activists assessed the transparency and accountability of Ghana’s forest sector, and found it to be worryingly opaque. In the absence of any laws on information disclosure, Ghanaian authorities could choose what information was made available to the public and what wasn’t. This has fostered a culture of secrecy that is providing cover to the activities of timber companies and loggers, which are stripping Ghana’s forests beyond legal or healthy limits.

The introduction in 2013 of the European Timber Regulation prompted Ghana’s Forestry Commission to publish a list of companies with valid timber licenses. Global Witness investigations revealed, however, that over three quarters of logging permits are invalid according to Ghana’s own forest law, meaning any timber they produce is deemed illegal by the EU.  Under the new regulation, European company executives importing illegal wood could be landed with a substantial jail term or heavy fine.

If Ghana intends on stemming its spiraling rate of deforestation, it will have to better regulate the allocation and use of timber licenses so that they are in line with relevant laws, and reverse the historic under-pricing of timber rights.