Barely a month after the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, ban on the harvesting and trade in Rosewood took effect on the 1st of January, 2014, the illegal loggers after a month new year break, have resumed operations in West Gonja District once again.

During the last two quarters of 2013, the illegal and devastating activities of these rosewood loggers in the fragile ecosystems of Gonja land compelled the Ministry together with the Forestry Commission and other security apparatus, to place a ban on the harvesting and trade in rosewood. The ban did not take immediate, and allowed a three months grace period to enable licensed timber exporters to continue operating until their permits expired by end of the 2013. As expected, the grace period saw an increased activity of the these merchants in all the Districts they were operating, which included West Gonja, North Gonja, Central Gonja, Bole and Kintampo North Districts.

If you recall, in 2013, the illegal harvesting and trade in rosewood flooded the airwaves and became an issue of concern to well-meaning people of Gonjaland and also the general Ghanaian public. These destructive activities which started with the commencement of construction of the Fufulso-Sawla road, escalated beyond control to the extent that, not all the police checks points and Forest Services Division outpost could bring the menace to a halt. Tree felling activities started with the issuance of salvage permits by the Forest Services Division of the Forestry Commission. Salvage permits later turned to full operating licenses for timber merchants to remove rosewood trees from the fragile ecosystems of the savannah woodlands of the Northern Region.

The harvesting and trade in rosewood in 2013 saw some traditional authorities, police personnel, forest service division staff and other security apparatus conniving with timber merchants to rip the savannah zones dry. For those who were concerned but could not do anything about it, due to the seemingly indifference of the agencies responsible for enforcement of the laws of the land, they eventually decided to join the wagon.

Studies conducted during the period, indicates that, within a year, the revenue accruing to both the formal and informal sector as a result of this trade amount to an estimated $5Million, with less than 30% of this amount going to government chest from legal issuance of permits and auction of confiscated logs. Export destination for these logs is mainly China.

Clearly, the trade is so lucrative, the merchants took a whole month new year’s break and now they are back to work once again, barely a month after the ban took full effect on the 1st of January, 2014. Loading trucks and cranes which were parked have once again started moving into the bush. The loading trucks have started lining up the roads again, and soon all the hotels and restaurants will be in brisk business. What is alarming about this come back is that, the merchants are now not only interested in rosewood species, but also interested in another hard wood species known as Afzelia Africana.

In placing the ban, the Hon Minister of Lands and Natural Resources tasked the Forestry Commission to enforce the ban, while steps are taken to sensitise the public. Unfortunately, surveillance noted that no monitoring was put in place to even regulate harvesting and transport operations during the grace period and so to evaluate if the harvesting activities have indeed ceased after the ban became effective 1st of January, 2014.

In announcing the ban, Hon. Alhaji Fuseini lamented the destructive nature of the illegal activities and stressed that if the situation was allowed to continue unchecked “it will lead to a total loss of the fragile savannah landscape and the biodiversity, increase erosion and threaten the very livelihood of the people of this ecosystem”. Unfortunately, it is clear these unscrupulous nation wreckers who put the love for money above everything else and will do everything at whatever cost to achieve, do no respect the livelihoods of others and have resorted to flout a month old ban on rosewood trade.

Already, the Damongo Police Command have initiated steps to curb these activities, which is very good. However, learning from experience, especially regarding how this menace can escalate beyond the control of the district police command, may I urge the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, to do whatever it takes to ensure compliance. There is a need to work with all the necessary state agencies, both civil and military, to treat the re-emergence of these nation wreckers with all the disdain that they deserve and put in place stringent measures to curb these illegal activities before they get out of hand. We have seen the devastation that was caused last year by these illegal merchants, to allow them to take root once again, while a national ban is place, will be suicidal in safeguarding not only in the natural heritage of the people in these parts of the Ghana whose livelihoods depends on the land, but also lead to a breakdown of social order.

At the same time, there is a need for the leadership of Gonjaland to say enough is enough and just as they have showed commitment to improving the educational standard in Gonjaland, they should also show commitment to supporting the government and civil society drive to ensure environmental security.

…A stitch in time, saves nine…
Daryl Bosu

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