The Chairman of the Forest Industries Association of Ghana and the Managing Director of Samartex Wood Processing Company Richard Nsenkyire says the Forest Plantation Development Fund Board has not lived to its responsibility to help plant more trees over the years.

He says the board has a mandate that could transform the country’s timber industry but it hasn’t functioned as expected.

“We have our own private plantations. And we know one of the functions of this fund is to allocate loans to plantation growers. We haven’t applied. I don’t know which companies have applied. But all my members have not been able to access this fund. But we are the major contributors to this fund,” Mr. Nsenkyire explained.

“Initially when the fund was set up, I thought it was a brilliant idea to make sure our resource base increases. Because eventually, for environmental purposes, most of these plantations cover most of our rivers. The headwaters for environmental purpose, our off reserves, they are all getting depleted. So, I thought that most of this funding could go into plantation and re-afforestation. But I haven’t seen anything like this,” he added.

Parliament passed the Forest Plantation Development Fund Act in 2000, allowing for the establishment of the board to provide financial assistance for the development of forest plantation. It’s funded with levies on air-dried and unprocessed timber exported from the country, which NGO Nature and Development Foundation estimates have generated more than 65 million Ghana cedis for the board.

A report published by the NGO claims the Forest Plantation Development Fund (FPDF) Board has been non-transparent in its activities. “The timber industry was not formally aware of disbursements from the fund… There is limited access to the fund by its intended beneficiaries (forest plantation developers), as well as weak participation of stakeholders in the governance of the Fund,” the NDF report said.

“The timber companies have no clue what the fund is doing. No one knows who the beneficiaries of the fund are. No one understands how the fund is distributed. No one understands which areas have been planted. So, as stakeholders in the forestry industry, it is worrying that a fund established for the purpose of replenishing forests and establishing areas, both for climate change (fight) and for fibre, we can’t seem to find any evidence of its work,” Director of Nature and Development Foundation (NDF) Mustapha Seidu noted.

“The board should be reconstituted. Civil society should be added to the board… We think the buck stops with the minister. In fact, the chief director is a board secretary and he reports to the minister. General oversight lies with parliament. Parliament should take interest in what the board has been doing,” he added.

He says if the board operates appropriately, it will help create more jobs for young people. “Every government is interested in establishing plantations. Also, the manifestos are talking about forestry for job creation. They are thinking of plantations. One of the sources of funding for establishing plantations should be the board. If it is well managed, the industry will be ready to contribute more,” Mr. Seidu said.

“Then the destruction of natural resources, because we are not able to get enough wood from the forest, will reduce completely. In fact, a lot of the timber companies will now be dependent on plantations instead of the natural forests. We are talking about illegal logging. If we had enough plantation materials, that will reduce. In fact, if we need to conserve biodiversity,” he concluded.

Mr. Nsenkyire agrees. “We want much more accountability from this fund. And the whole fund has to be restructured. There has to be ministerial oversight. They have to engage us the stakeholders more. I want to see an audited account of this fund. Their operational account, they have to make it public because a lot of us are living on the side. We don’t know what is going on with this fund. They have to be much more transparent because it is the industry which is putting in this more,” he said.

“This has got much more to do with the government. But Parliament too can summon the minister of finance. I want to see them step in to make sure that they at least regulate the fund so it becomes much more public,” Mr. Nsenkyire said.

But the Forest Plantation Development Fund has denied claims there is no evidence of its work since establishment. “The first board… we were able to give out loans and grants to small scale farmers. You know the monies are not enough, so you cannot give much. We also gave out grants in form of cutlasses, wellington boot, all over Ghana,” Alberta Essuman who is the administrator at the fund explained.

Board chairman of the fund Nana Osei Barimah says timber exporting companies are only trying to avoid paying the levies. “What actually is happening is that they want to see to it that maybe their monies are not being used properly and so the government should cease taking the levies from them. But that is not the issue,” he said. “The monies that come into the fund is dwindling. So, it is difficult to make an impact if the whole fund is getting less than 10 million a whole year. How can it make an impact? It means you can’t even assist farmers to develop more hectares. So their concern is neither here nor the levies,” Nana Barimah added.