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close this bookProceedings of the FAO Advisory Committee on Paper and Wood Products (1997)
View the documentProgress achieved world-wide and FAO's contribution
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View the documentAn example from a developing country - Ghana

An example from a developing country - Ghana

Fosuaba A. Mensah Banahene
Ghana Timber Millers Organization, Kumasi


Forest resources of Ghana

The High Forest Zone, which is virtually natural forest, covers an area of 8.2 million ha, approximately one-third of the total land area of Ghana. The High Forest occurs in the south-west portion of Ghana, extending northwards to reach the upland evergreen areas of Ashanti region and western parts of Brong Ahafo region. The High Forest in Ghana consists of the wet evergreen rainforest and the moist semi-deciduous forest.

Available studies indicate that 1 634 100 ha of the high forest are under reserves. Of this, 352 500 ha (21.5 percent) are under permanent protection while 762 400 ha are designated timber production area. Information about off-reserve areas is sparse but it is generally accepted that there are about 400 000 ha of forest in off-reserves.

The present state of the forests requires that an intensive management plan be put in place to reduce the high rate of degradation. Of the 352 000 ha of protected forests, as much as 32 percent degradation has occurred and efforts are being made to rehabilitate 122 000 ha of that. On the whole, the forest of Ghana contains a standing volume of 188 million m3 of wood and it has a natural growth rate of 4.6 million m3 at an increment rate of 4 m3/ha/year.


Plantation forestry is relatively new in Ghana. Currently, there are some 40 000 ha of plantation consisting of about 15 000 ha planted by the Forestry Department and the rest by forest industry firms and a large numbers of small holdings with teak as the main species. The annual yield from these is 50 000 m3 but this is expected to increase with the years as more companies and individuals have intensified activities in commercial planting.

Land ownership patterns

In Ghana, all the land belongs to the traditional stools (chieftaincy) but they have been vested in the President of Ghana to be managed on their behalf. Legally, this means that land owners have lost the right to allocated the resource but do retain the right to benefit from the resource. The system, therefore, allows for traditional landholding authorities (stools) to hold allodial title to land on behalf of the people. Members of the landholding group have usufruct rights and may permanently appropriate a portion of land. Migrants in a particular traditional area may, however, acquire land by outright purchase or by leasing, usually under customary law.

There is a great difficulty in coming up with a system of land use acceptable to all. However, the Ministry of Lands and Forestry has over the last five years been working on land use policy. The policy is expected to be announced soon.

Contribution of forests to economy of Ghana

The importance of the timber industry can be examined from several angles but for the moment, we may consider the employment benefits and contribution to GDP.

About 75 000 adults/household heads were employed in the industry as at 1994 while 2 million people lived off the industry (TEDB 95). This situation has changed since 1996 with the industry now employing 100 000 household heads and not less than 3 million people depend upon the industry for their livelihood.

In a country where the level of unemployment is as high as 20 percent, the industry's ability to maintain such a level of employment is very significant.

Foreign earnings from the sector have also been rising over the years. For instance, in 1994 timber exports contributed 18 percent to total external earnings of Ghana. In 1990, the overall contribution of the forestry sector to GDP was 5.1 percent. In 1995, timber exports alone contributed US$ 230 million which was 11 percent total export earnings. Export earnings from Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) are rising steadily and constitute a new area of employment for Ghanaians.

Without doubt, the forest industry has the potential to increase its contribution to the country's economy but this can be realised only when more enabling policies are put in place and industry also moves rapidly into further processing.

Sustainable forest management

Historical background on sylvicultural and harvesting practice

Forest management has been practised in Ghana since the closing decade of the twentieth century but it was not until 1927 that the legal power to enforce reservation was secured. Since then, a consistent policy of selection, demarcation and reservation has been vigorously pursued. By the end of 1978, about 3 267 250 ha of forests had been placed under permanent forest estate.

From 1900, the granting of concessions to companies for timber exploitation began. Game production reserves and wildlife sanctuaries were created. There exist five national parks, two of which are located in the tropical forest zone. In all these areas, timber exploitation is forbidden by law.

Various sylvicultural systems have been practised including the normal logging effects on silviculture in selected areas. In the 1950s the Tropical Shelterwood System was experimentally tried but it was abandoned because it was not cost-effective. It consisted in eliminating the uneconomic trees while allowing the rest to grow into maturity. Various methods, including poisoning of the trees, were used to reach the goal. Taungya system which was copied from Southeast Asia at the beginning of the century is also used but mainly for plantation programmes. Almost all the plantations set up by the Forestry Department were through the taungya system. Farmers were encouraged to farm at the selected areas, especially hillsides, and while their foodcrops were growing, planting of trees was also carried out. This practice is randomly performed even today by individuals and most rural communities and it is expected that the Forestry Department would revive the system as it gears up its activities to increasingly improve Ghana's forest. It may be necessary to recommend this practice to the companies that have begun to set up plantations.

Financial and other incentives for SFM

Incentives have long been thought of by the government as a way of motivating forest exploiters and others to respond favourably to the needs of forest protection and conservation. In 1993, the government commissioned IIED to conduct a study into this area and the results re-emphasised the need to inject varied forms of incentive systems into the quest for a more efficient system for sustainable management of the forest.

In addition to royalty payments and other forest fees, there is the need to actively engage the rural people, the forest dwellers, to participate in forest protection and improvement systems. To be able to achieve this, the Forestry Department has embarked upon a number of approaches including programmes such as Collaborative Forestry, Social Responsibility Systems, etc. It is most important to recognise that without bringing in the rural people on whose land the forest grows, any effort to significantly improve the forest will not succeed.

Involving the local people means making them see the forest as an economic asset which they owe in partnership with others and that, if they took good care of the forest along the lines of sustainability, as put forward by the government, they would reap financial gains. This is what has been called the “joint-forest system”. Already, one of the leading timber companies in Ghana, Ghana Primewood, has undertaken a “joint-forest management” project with the people Gwira Banso in the western region of Ghana. The Project is supported by DANIDA and already there are verifiable indications that the local people's interest will crystallise in improved sustainable forest management in that area.

Incentives need not only be given to the rural people alone. All other actors on the forest scene must be considered. If industry will need to accept a far greater responsibility for the resource, it is obvious that it will also need to have some incentives. Incentives such as deregulation, participation in policy formulation and financial allowances in the form of investment packages of low interest rates are recommended. There are indications that the government is evolving a system, though slowly and not-transparent enough, towards benefits in direct proportion to responsibility and for this, industry looks forward to its attainment in reality.

Above all, there is the need to adequately equip the Forestry Department and for this the government has been very slow in doing it. The Department lacks logistics which will enable them to put into practice the many action plans it has designed. Vehicles, buildings and tools, are in great demand for the successful implementation of management plans.

New harvesting practices

Responsible harvesting has become a necessary ingredient in sustainable forest management in Ghana. To the extent that proper procedures would be adopted by both District/Technical Officers of the Forestry Department, as well as concessionaires for operators in the forest, the Planning Branch of the Forestry Department provided a “Handbook of Harvesting Rules for Sustainable Management of Tropical High Forest in Ghana” in 1992. The book serves as a guide to all forest exploiters to enable them bring their practices in keeping with the sustainable forest management plans. Issues discussed in the book range from planning considerations through operational considerations to environmental considerations. In line with recent studies, the policy document of the Ministry of Lands and Forestry places a maximum limit on an annual harvesting volume of timber. The Master Plan directs that only 500 000 m3 and between 300 000 m3 and 500 000 m3 of the resource can be harvested annually from the reserves and off-reserves, respectively. Even though studies are incomplete especially with the Off-Reserves, the Forestry Department has already begun implementation of an interim measures which set the Annual Allowable Cut (AAC) at 1.0 million m3. This AAC figure is, indeed, a recommendation by the UK Forestry Commission to the Forestry Department. As a matter of fact, the Forestry Department had set 807 000 m3 for the AAC. It is the considered opinion of the Forestry Department that any level of harvesting beyond this will not make management of Ghana's forests sustainable. Within one year of the implementation of this policy (1995-1996), export volume dropped by 34 percent.

The “Harvesting Rules” sets standards for harvesting and the schedule requires the concessionaire to produce a Logging Plan which ensures that the expected operation is in line with the management plans. Yield is also regulated according to the trend in a stock survey which is carried out prior to the allocation of the concession. The operational plan of the concessionaire should contain schedules of construction of logging roads, bridges, culverts, skidding tracks and also the felling activity. All these will have to be approved by the District Forestry Office (DFO) and then by the Regional Forestry Officer (RFO) before permit to fell can be issued to the concessionaire. In addition, the concessionaire must comply with environmental standards set by the Forestry Department. These include the use of environment-friendly equipment, felling of specified species, respecting protected areas such as sanctuaries and headwaters. Lastly, the concessionaire must practise safety standards in his operations and there are rules that must be followed. Recently, the Forestry Department introduced further measures to ensure effective management of the forest, especially when illegal fellings intensified.

Without doubt, the management plans for the sustainable development of Ghana's forests cannot fail to succeed conservation-wise if these plans are carried through. However, it is the view of the private sector (industry) that sustainability programmes should also ensure that forest industry is enhanced. It is important that the views of those who are the real implementers of the plans are incorporated in the plans. The timber industry association's critical objection to certain aspects of the measures were addressed to the Forestry Department but action towards them are either in piecemeal or are moving at very slow pace or in some areas totally ignored.

Future wood supply to industry

Future supply of wood to industry is very precarious. The implementation of the maximum AAC of 1 million m3 is obviously going to affect the supply of logs to the mills because the capacity of the processing plants far exceeds what the AAC allows. In recent times, the Ministry of Lands and Forestry has indicated that there would be the need to reduce the capacity of the processing plants by a minimum of 33 percent. It was indicated in 1993 that the installed capacity of the mills was in the order of 2 000 000 m3 year and that this was well in excess of what can be sustained by the resource.

But the demand for timber has increased over the past five years, especially for domestic consumption. With increasing demand from housing industry which is receiving a boom, timber and wood supply has become a brisk business. It is estimated that domestic needs of timber is in the region of 1 500 000 m3 as at 1995 (excluding what is used directly in the villages). Some analysts even believe higher figures are involved. Wood exports in 1995 amounted to 547 000 m3.

It needs, therefore, no imagination to realise that supply of timber or wood will experience an acute shortfall in the wake of the implementation of the new AAC. Some have opined that it is the intention of the Ministry of Lands and Forestry to force skewed supply system so that some companies will naturally fall out in order to reduce the capacity. But the point is that the demand will not abate and this will lead to increased illegal activities to deplete the forest. The issue is a big one and it is important that all parties be involved in designing an effective strategy to counteract it.

Forest depletion

Ghana experiences deforestation like most countries in Africa. The Sahara desert is said to be advancing southwards at a threatening rate and this translates into increased savanisation of the forest areas.

Deforestation is, indeed, a phenomenon occasioned by the increase in the number of human beings. There are more mouths to feed than 50 years ago when the population of Ghana was less than 6 million. Fanning activities have increased and demand for energy has also increased. It is estimated that farming and woodfuel (including charcoal) procurement accounts for 79 percent of all the removals from the forest. Indeed, the Ministry of Mines and Energy has it on official record that the charcoal industry and woodfuel account for 15 million m3 of trees removed annually from the forest. At the per caput consumption rate of about 1 m3 of fuelwood and 0.2 m3 of charcoal, the production in 1980 can be estimated at 11 500 000 m3. Probably, if measures were to be taken to curtail this unacceptable level of woodfuel and charcoal consumption, the rate of forest destruction would be reduced to manageable levels.

Social aspects of sustainable forest management

The Government of Ghana envisages that as management plans are implemented, social needs would emerge and they would need to be addressed since the government policy seeks also to see “all segments of society benefit from the sustainable development” of the forest resources.

The rationale behind the government policy is that when others are removed from the management system, their actions, wilful or otherwise, will adversely affect the sustainable forest management plans. Therefore, as it has been pointed out earlier, it is necessary to get all parties, especially local people, involved in the process. But for local people, it is only when the forests have real value to them will they see the need to cooperate in efforts to protect and manage the forest. The 1994 Forest and Wildlife Policy makes adequate provision to attract the local people to participate in forest management. Looking at the thrust of the emerging policies in the forest sector, local people will in future be offered the opportunity to share in the financial wealth of trees in their own farm. Currently, farmers are compensated financially when commercial trees on their farms are felled. There is now a growing propensity among local people to strive to provide ingenuous ideas towards forest protection. In addition to this, timber firms operating in the forests provide a lot of social needs for the people. Indeed, a “social responsibility” performance requirement is to be part of the new concession law being prepared.

Forest certification in Ghana

What is forest certification?

Forest certification has engaged the attention of the government of Ghana for the past three years. Several consultations have been made both inside and outside the country and there are already measures under way to address the issue. Ghana's approaches have been guided by its understanding of what certification means. Forest certification is the assessment of management quality of a specified forest by a single organization against an acceptable international standard. It is seen as an effort towards effective sustainability of the forest. In the view of industry, the purpose of forest certification is so crucial that its execution should not be left in the arena of marketing alone. As a marketing tool, certification risks failure if the efficiency of the market place declines. In other words, an environmental issue cannot be adequately addressed by relying on the dictates of market.

However, looking at the general movement and direction of certification, this view of industry in Ghana is less popular.

Ghanaian approaches

Ghana has adopted the approach of sensitising grassroots perceptions and with that build a consensus for national initiative. A national Workshop was held in June 1996 for all stakeholders. At this Workshop, an important initiative was adopted and that was the setting up of a National Certification Committee, comprising a wide spectrum of stakeholder representation. From the National Committee, a National Technical Committee was appointed to design standards for certification in Ghana.

The National Certification has held two meetings since and will soon meet to discuss the interim report of the National Technical Committee. The standards will be widely discussed before adopting a final set of standards and criteria. It is desired that those standards be in conformity with FSC Principles, ITTO Guidelines and ISO Format though they will maintain unique character reflecting the special circumstances of Ghana.

Issues that have been discussed

Some of the issues that have been and continue to be discussed are:

· voluntary, transparent and non-discriminatory nature of certification;
· cost-effectiveness, credibility and purposefulness;
· who pays for the certification cost;
· national and international standards conformity;
· need for chain of custody;
· accreditation and local bodies' readiness to certify;
· trade impacts and national economy;
· can certification adequately promote sustainability process.

All these are major issues and it takes time to reach acceptable solutions.

Regional workshop on certification

Owing to Ghana's critical approach to certification, it has been the focus of international interest in the subregion which culminated in the holding of a regional workshop in Accra in November 1996.

The workshop took a critical appraisal of forest certification and assessed individual country approaches, sharing strengths and discouraging weaknesses. Major conclusions were:

· certification should be a step-by-step approach in Africa;
· standards must cover both performance (operations) and process (policies);
· national peculiarities should be accommodated in the standards;
· local technical competence should be strengthened and increased;
· cost-sharing should be initially practised by both sellers and buyers;
· consuming North should be informed that “Africa is on its way”;
· boycott-happy countries should back out;
· donor-agencies should offer financial packages to propel take-off;
· pilot projects should be set up to demonstrate practice;
· local people should be educated.


It is most important for all to recognise that the forest is a national heritage that must be protected in the interest of society but, at the same time, it is an economic resource that must be exploited for the good of the same society. This dual-quality of the forest creates tension and it is the expectation of posterity that the present generation will employ its immense knowledge and wisdom to carve a credible path for ensuring the sustained presence of the forest to serve mankind at all times.

Whether it is economic exploitation or species conservation, there is a responsibility to ensure that social and national needs are not unduly destroyed or even frustrated for the world and all that it contains is meant for the good of mankind.