There is growing awareness of the importance of ecosystem services such as the harvest of Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP) for rural communities in developing countries. An estimated 1.6 billion people depend partly or fully on forest products to sustain their livelihoods and where income generating livelihood options are scarce, the sale of NTFPs is often the only means to earn cash income. Cash crops and trees are the main resources of survival for many Ghanaian farmers because cash crop production enables farmers and farm workers to increase their living standards, which eventually contributes to food security. Further, and perhaps more importantly, the production of cash crops offers farmers opportunities for investment and improving management of their farms, stimulating agricultural innovation and increasing yields. With the destruction of these crops and trees, farmers are gradually losing out of business and their sources of livelihood, plunging them in poverty, depleting the vegetation that influences rainfall to support the production of other crops and increasing climate change effect on development efforts. Problem Studies show that tropical deforestation is one of the most serious environmental problems in recent decades and has become a major global concern due to the importance of tropical forests in biodiversity conservation and its critical role in global climate change. Deforestation is the conversion of forest to an alternative permanent non-forested land use such as agriculture; grazing or urban development deforestation is a primary concern for developing countries of the tropics as it represents the shrinking areas of the tropical forests. The struggle to save Ghana’s rain forests and other forests continues and there is a growing public concern about the issue. Uncontrolled depletion of forest resources are affecting economic activities and threatening the livelihood and cultural integrity of forest-dependent people at the local level. It is reduces the supply of forest products and causes siltation, flooding and soil degradation. Reducing tropical deforestation is therefore of national importance for the sustainable production of timber and non-timber forest products. Notwithstanding the global acknowledgement of the importance of forests, particularly tropical forests, research shows that national forest area has continued to decline whilst agricultural land continues to expand in tropical areas. Undoubtedly, cash crop agriculture requires the management of various types of risk such as soil degradation and price variability. Communities with increased specialization in cash crops have the potential to face a drop in incomes when harvests fail due to pests or drought, when prices slump or when they lose market access. Cash crops not only contribute to increased agriculture production and income of rural households, but also to sustainable intensification. Sustainable growth will increasingly be needed in the future, when Ghana needs to feed her growing people. Cash crops may help in accelerating these yields and help Ghana on a path of sustainable strengthening. But, cash crops and trees have come under severe human activity attack, risking their depletion and the nation has not been able to arrest the dimension. Ghana is still among one of the most advance tropical zones in Africa and that the Forestry Commission has also established a rapid respond unit to deal with illegal chainsaw operators and other forest offences. But remorseless destruction of forests has been going on. Nobody knows exactly how much of the nation’s rain forests have already been destroyed and continue to be razed each year because data is often imprecise and subject to differing interpretations. However, it is obvious that the area of tropical rainforest is diminishing and the rate of tropical rain forest destruction is escalating in the country, despite increased environmental activism and awareness. Key Contributing factors Many negative environmental practices undertaken by man such as perennial bush burning and illegal harvesting of trees, illegal and small scale mining, climate change, untimely weeding and harvesting, lack of access to quality seeds and planting materials are key causes to the problem of cash crops and trees production. According to the Ghana Association of Commercial Tree Growers and Cash Crops (GACTACC) cash crops (cocoa, cashew, coffee, citrus and mango) and other trees (teak, mahogany, rubber and moringer) farmers in Ghana are losing their crops and trees due to the activities of illegal chainsaw operators, charcoal burners, small scale miners and yam stick cutters. The result is low productivity of the crops and trees and low incomes with rising poverty levels and also the loss of vegetation needed to support rainfall for farming and control climate change. Tree Conservation Laws Ghana is richly endowed with renewable natural resources, which have played vital roles in its socio-economic development. The colonial administration enacted Legislations to control the felling of commercial tree species to protect the forest from degradation. Subsequently, the Forestry Department was established later to control indiscriminate felling of trees. The Timber Resource Management Act, 1998 thus Act 547 talks about the grant of Timber Rights in a manner that secures the sustainable management and utilization of the timber resources of Ghana and to provide for related purposes. Under this law is the Timber Rights which prohibits from harvesting timber without Timber utilization contract (Ministry for Environment, 1998). The Ministry for Environment (1999) put together the environment assessment regulations, 1999 schedule to among other things control logging (Management of forested land for the primary purpose of harvesting timber in a contract area) and Forestry. It is well touted in the international community that Ghana a well-established range of laws and regulations which govern her forestry sector, and making appreciable efforts to protect its forest resources and control illegal logging. Unfortunately, however, there has been inconsistency, lack of transparency, and large amounts of illegal logging still prevalent in the country. For decades, the state has allowed timber and mining corporations free to destroy Ghana’s forests and as a result Ghana’s forest cover has dwindled from 8.2 million hectares to less than 1.5 million hectares between 1900 and 1990. Between 1990 and 2005, the rate of deforestation actually accelerated to a historical high with significant forest reserves losing their entire forest cover. This is largely attributed to the chainsaw milling sector despite it being outlawed in 1998,weak law enforcement, poor domestic production standards, and a large export market that have continued to drive illegal chainsaw milling. These illegalities serve as tolls to cash crop and trees farmers since the chainsaw milling are not done only in the public forests but also on privately owned plantations. Intervention The Ghana Association of Commercial Tree Growers and Cash Crops (GACTACC) is a farmer-based organisation in the Techiman Municipality of Brong-Ahafo Region established in 2003. In collaboration with the Center of Posterity Interest Organisation (COPIO), an NGO and service providers, the GACTCC which has a membership of 610, has sought funding from the Business Sector Advocacy Challenge (BUSAC) fund implementing a project to protect trees and cash crops against illegal lumbering. The 11-month project titled “advocating for conservation of cash crops and trees against illegal lumbering for sustainable use” will push enforcement of existing tree conservation laws and enactment and enforcement of byelaws. According to Mr Henry Korang Fosu, the Chairman of the GACTACC, effective implementation of the project would increase cash crop production, incomes of farmers with improved government tax returns. It would also motivate the youth to go into cash crop and tree farming, thereby creating more jobs and reducing teething youth unemployment problem in the country. Mr Fosu said preserving cash crops and other economic trees would enhance good vegetation growth to induce rainfall for farming activities and help control climate change in the country as well. He expressed appreciation to the BUSAC fund and its partners for the support, and urged the project implementing communities to support and make it achieve desirable results. Way forward Dr John Akparep, a lecturer at the University of Development Studies (UDS) and a researcher emphasised that tree conservation was collective and shared responsibility. By conserving trees, he said the nation slow down global warming and reduced climate impact, which remained greatest contemporary threat to forest ecosystems, biodiversity and livelihood of poor forest fringe communities. Dr Akparep, who is also a consultant to COPIO called for strict enforcement of existing laws against the negative environmental practices and appropriate sanctions meted on culprits. In this regard, he called for the establishment of a special task force to fight the illegal chainsaw operations menace as been done against illegal mining. Dr Akparep said the temporary ban on logging and timber harvesting in forest reserves must be continued and monitored saying government taskforce set up to monitor forest and arrest illegal chainsaw operators should be provided with adequate logistics. Communities along forest fringe areas should also be motivated to set up local taskforce to assist in the fight against illegal logging and lumbering.
Source: www.watchghana.com/ K. Peprah