Ghana has about 2.6 million hectares of forest reserves dedicated to timber production, and an additional 2 million hectares of crop land that also produce timber and it is no surprise that the forest sector is the fourth largest contributor to Ghana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

But, the major challenge facing the country in the sector is forest monitoring which has become critical to national efforts to respond to deforestation and forest degradation and the same can be said of forest cover loss due to cocoa expansion in the high forest zone. Another challenge is how to use spatial tools to accurately and realistically monitor and understand the effects of land use and sustainable management interventions for informed policies and interventions. Ghana is also challenged by the unavailability of a national digital spatial infrastructure that will hold and share reliable spatial data to end users in a manner that would address some of these challenges.

The solution to the challenges is here, as the Forestry Commission of Ghana (FCG) has launched the National Map of Forests and Land Use, a significant milestone in Ghana’s commitment to building world-class Earth Observation expertise, after a culmination of three-year project dubbed Forest 2020 which was launched in June 2017. The Forests 2020 project is a major investment by the UK Space Agency, as part of the International Partnerships Programme (IPP) with the aim of helping to protect and restore up to 300 million hectares of tropical forests by improving forest monitoring in seven partner countries including Ghana through advanced uses of Earth Observation (EO) data.

The National land-use maps have been developed over the past three years by the Resource Management Support Centre which is the technical wing of the Forestry Commission in charge of setting standards and monitoring and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology with the support of international partners. It is being managed by Ecometrica, the downstream space information company, and supported by the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme.

The launch of the National Map of Forests and Land Use is the latest in a series of initiatives to enhance sustainability across Ghana’s key agricultural commodities, such as cocoa, and aims to end deforestation, while promoting forest restoration and protection throughout supply chains. It will be formally adopted as a national product for the use of climate reporting and zero-deforestation supply chains in both the forest sector and for commodity exports.

This is because, the maps provide authoritative and accurate information about the extent of forests, shaded and unshaded cocoa production areas, forest reserves, admitted farms, and other agricultural areas.

Yakubu Mohammed, Head of Geo-Information Unit at Resource Management Support Centre of the Forestry Commission of Ghana and Principal Investigator for Forests 2020, said, “The map is an important outcome from the Forests 2020 project, which has enabled us to create a resource center from which we will further develop our new land cover map. Importantly, FCG and our partner agencies will now be in a much stronger position to determine progress towards the Cocoa & Forests Initiative objectives and other international commitments and initiatives.”

Dr. Richard Tipper, executive chairman of Ecometrica, added, “This is a significant achievement by FCG and represents the first 3rd generation land-use map to be produced at the national level by a middle-income country. It is also a testament to the ongoing success of Forests 2020 and its long-term legacy, with Ghana now in a position to identify key commodity crops, such as cocoa, but also whether these crops are grown under a tree shade or in shade-free condition.”

Mr John Allotey, the Chief Executive Officer of the Forestry Commission of Ghana, noted that, the map has arrived at an opportune time when Ghana is revising its forest reference level, tracking both commodity-led deforestation and legally produced wood.

Mr John Allotey, CEO of the Forestry Commission, Ghana

The Map he said, represented a breakthrough in the level of quality, detail and accuracy from such products, adding, Ghana is one of the first countries in the world to complete a map of this quality at national scale.

“As a multipurpose product it will be updated over time and used for the determination of the extent, distribution of forest cover and rate of deforestation, national climate change reporting under the UNFCCC Paris Agreement, enforcement of compliance with zero deforestation commodities including timber, cocoa, rubber, palm oil, shea and other exportable commodities, and planning and monitoring projects and policies in the forest and land use sector. It is expected that the map will be guided by policy and legislation to ensure proper use and avoid inconsistencies in the dissemination of forest information”, he added.

By Awudu Salami Sulemana Yoda