One of the world’s largest and most experienced independent conservation organizations, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has added Ghana in its 2020 deforestation fronts report published in January this year. Other new entrance from West Africa includes Liberia and Ivory Coast.

The report, titled Deforestation Fronts: Drivers and Responses in a Changing World, looks at the state of forests and causes of deforestation in 24 “active deforestation fronts” (MAP), which account for over half of all tropical and subtropical deforestation that occurred over the 14-year period. WWF identified these deforestation fronts based on the likelihood that these areas would experience high rates of forest loss between 2010 and 2030.

Pictorial presentation of WWF report

Using satellite-based datasets, the report mentioned smallholder farming as the key driver of forest loss in Ghana, accompanied by small scale timber. The other two are fuel and charcoal and mining.

The addition of Ghana to the deforestation front has come as no surprise to many, especially when it has consistently continued to lose many of its protected reserve over the years.

An analysis of satellite data published in the year 2019 for instance by U.S.-based World Resource Institute (WRI), found Ghana experienced the biggest relative increase in primary forest loss of all tropical countries in 2018. According to the report, the loss of Ghana’s primary forest cover jumped 60 percent from 2017 to 2018 – almost entirely from its protected areas.

In response to WRI’s report, the Ghanaian government issued a statement through its Forestry Commission denying the findings. In its statement, the Forestry Commission said the WRI report was based on a faulty methodology as well as a misunderstanding of current controlled agricultural practices in Ghana. It refuted the 60 percent figure, saying instead that Ghana’s primary forest loss had increased by 31 percent between 2017 and 2018.

A publication by data analytics company Satelligence later affirmed WRI’s findings that Ghana deforestation did indeed experience a 60 percent jump.

The current inclusion of Ghana to the deforestation front by the WWF has also gone to confirm how the country is losing its natural resources through many illegal activities.

A clearcut area 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) wide was carved from Tano-Offin early part of the year 2019. Imagery from Planet Labs, accessed via Global Forest Watch. Source: Mongabay.org
How Africa fared in the report

According to the report, in Africa, subsistence agriculture remains a key driver of forest loss, yet commercial agriculture tends to expand over time, accompanied by small-scale timber extraction for energy, though this is mainly associated with forest degradation rather than deforestation.

“A new trend in several regions is the increasing number of smallholders growing commodity crops such as cocoa, oil palm, maize and raising cattle – sometimes for export but often to fulfil a rapidly rising demand in domestic markets. Deforestation also expands in places where there is pressure from informal mining operations and expansion of human settlements. Illegal large-scale logging, often to supply international timber markets, has also led to forest degradation, which is often followed by forest clearing”, the report said.

It said, growing demand also fuels land speculation and encroachment on public forestlands and lands under control of indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs). “These trends are often accompanied by the expansion of illegal and/or informal economies, activities that in some cases tend to involve local and business elites. In addition, governments tend to stimulate investment in agriculture and extractive industries, linking it to their objectives of economic growth, but often not taking fully into account the needs and perspectives of rural people including IPLCs, smallholder farmers and landless rural poor”, it added.

Forest in crisis

In his preamble to the Report, Marco Lambertini, Director General WWF International noted that, forests today are in crisis, devastated by fires, converted and degraded for agriculture, for fuel and for timber.

He wrote that, the mismanagement of the world’s forests is ramping up carbon emissions, ravaging biodiversity, destroying vital ecosystems, and affecting the livelihoods and wellbeing of local communities as well as societies globally. “And the situation is getting worse. The world’s current unsustainable food systems mean that instead of repurposing degraded land for sustainable agricultural use, forests, savannahs and grasslands continue to be destroyed”, he added.

He wrote further “All this lends further weight to the need for a New Deal for Nature and People that puts nature on a path to recovery by 2030 and sets us on course to achieve real sustainable development, and a carbon-neutral, nature positive, equitable society”.

The report therefore lays out a series of actions to address deforestation, including policy measures by governments and companies. These range from commodity sourcing policies to recognizing Indigenous and local communities’ land rights.

“We know what has to be done: protect critical biodiversity areas and sustainably manage forests, halt deforestation and restore forest landscapes, recognize and protect the tenure rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, support local people to build sustainable livelihoods, enhance landscape governance, and transform our economies, food and financial systems to better account for the value of nature,” wrote Marco Lambertini.

“With a strong enough global coalition of the willing – governments, businesses, local communities, Indigenous Peoples, civil society organizations and consumers – we can do it.”

By Awudu Salami Sulemana Yoda