A new data by the Washington DC based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), says, 9,031,570 Kilograms (kg) of rosewood, an equivalent of $ 5,663,782 were imported by China from Ghana in December 2020 while bans on its harvest and export have been in place.

This is despite the fact that, the value and volume of rosewood exported to China from Ghana should be zero.

To tackle the surge in illegal and unsustainable harvest of rosewood, the government of Ghana imposed a ban on the harvesting and trading of rosewood and according to the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, the ban is still in force.

The ban has however had no impact on reducing the illegal rosewood trade, as available data by the EIA shows that, exports to China have been ongoing while the bans are in place.

According to the staggering EIA’s analysis, 199,160,119 kg of rosewood, an equivalent of 124,073,247 USD were imported into China from Ghana since March 2019 when the last ban started.

The ongoing illegal activity was discovered through EIA’s Rosewood Revealed, a web tool created to enable Ghanaian citizens know the quantity and value of illegal rosewood exported into China from Ghana every month. The source of data according to the EIA, is the Chinese Customs data based on the Global Trade Atlas (GTA).

The past unwanted record

In July 2019, the EIA released a groundbreaking report titled, BAN-BOOZLED: How Corruption and Collusion Fuel Illegal Rosewood Trade in Ghana. In the report, the EIA estimated that since 2012, over 540,000 tons of rosewood – the equivalent of 23,478 twenty-foot containers or approximately 6 million trees – were illegally harvested and imported into China from Ghana while bans on harvest and trade have been in place.

the data released by EIA for the Ghana's rosewood importation to China in 2020"

EIA’s investigation also documented a massive institutionalized timber trafficking scheme, enabled by high-level corruption and collusion in the forestry sector. As the West African rosewood species has been protected by the Convention on International Trade in Wild Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) since 2017, the illegal trade also raised serious questions about Ghana’s implementation of the international convention.

Fragile ecosystems

The environmental impacts of deforestation as a result of the illegal rosewood harvesting are already being felt in this Savannah belt of the country. “Before this phenomenon, you always had shade in the forest, but now the sun and wind have a lot of negative effects. Our rainfall pattern has changed and most of the rivers here serving as a source of drinking water for the people have completely dried up”, Hajia Damata, a resident of Busunu told ghenvironment.org.

“The trees are relentlessly been targeted by these traffickers with impunity and we still don’t know how it is going to stop and with bribes greasing palms at the many police and forestry checkpoints along the route to Accra, only God can save us”, the disturbed woman added.

Another empty threat from government?

Being aware of the ongoing illegality regarding trading of rosewood in the country, the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources had in January this year warned that, the ban placed on the harvesting, transporting and exporting of Rosewood is still in force and that, any person or group of persons who flout it would be arrested and prosecuted according to the laws of Ghana.

“The Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources has noticed that in spite of the ban placed on the harvesting, transporting and export of Rosewood since 2018, some unscrupulous persons took advantage of the Christmas festivities to engage in the illegal harvesting and haulage of Rosewood. This has culminated into several truckloads of Rosewood and other wood products that have been intercepted and currently parked at the Achimota Depot of the Forestry Commission waiting for punitive measures to be taken”. This was contained in a press statement issued and signed by the Chief Director, Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, Prof. F. Patrick Agbesinyale.

According the statement, the Ministry has intensified its monitoring and patrol activities in hot-spot areas and would impound any truck(s) conveying Rosewood and other wood products which have been illegally harvested.

“The Ministry has also received several petitions from individuals and various groups in the timber export business demanding that the ban be lifted to enable them to evacuate supposedly abandoned and lying Rosewood logs. The Ministry wishes to inform these petitioners that their request cannot be granted. Lifting of the ban is not envisaged anytime soon in view of the uncontrolled destruction of the fragile ecosystem from where Rosewood is largely sourced” the statement added.

Workers cut African rosewood in Jinhua, Zhejiang province (Image © Lu Guang / Greenpeace)
Lack of Trust

But, a group calling itself the Youth Against Illegal Harvesting of Rosewood has described as empty the threats issued by the Ministry. The Leader of the group, Abdul Rauf Fatawu told ghenvironment.org that, government had over the years deceived them and can no longer trust any of the state agencies to halt the illegality.

“In 2019, when the EIA comprehensively exposed how the rosewood trade was being carried out in the country, what was the outcome of the investigations conducted by government over the issue. Everybody involved in that shady deal was cleared, so how do you expect us to take the government serious again”, he asked.

Referring to the current figures released by the EIA, Mr Fatawu noted that, Ghana has failed to deal with the issue and it is a very lame excuse for one to blame the illegality on Christmas festivities in December last year.

“If in December 2020, more than 5 Million USD worth of rosewood was exported to China from Ghana despite the ban, then we don’t need anyone to tell us the government is playing the ostrich in halting the illegality and the collapse of the ecosystem in the Savannah belt of the country”

He has therefore called on NGOs and other Civil Society Organisations to join forces and put pressure on government to act faithfully in ensuring the total enforcement of the ban.

By Awudu Salami Sulemana Yoda