In March 2021, the President, Nana Akufo Addo declared his government’s intention to aggressively tackle deforestation and forest extinction through the ‘Green Ghana Project’. In this regard, June 10th was set for the first commemoration of Green Ghana Day.
In the maiden edition of this exercise, the country exceeded its initial target of 5 million trees across the country by planting about 7 million trees in one day.
Through the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources and the Forestry Commission, free seedlings were distributed to schools, churches, residents, and other volunteers.
The Green Ghana Day is a great project, no doubt. But something beats my imagination. Why are we here as a country? Why must we organize a national day to plant trees? The answers are glaring to our eyes. If the same mistakes are repeated, we will be back to square zero.
Data shows that Ghana’s forest cover has shrunk from 8.2 million in 1900 to 1.6 million hectares as of 2021. This drastic decline in forest cover is due to activities we have control over but have paid deaf ears to such activities to continue over the years.
The activities of illegal mining, chain saw operators, and indiscriminate bush burnings account for this inimical output. However, governments over the years have either paid little or no attention to these activities. They have allowed partisan politics to illude their sense of judgement when the right calls should be made.
Prior to 2013, not much attention was given to galamsey activities. The government before then placed less priority on safeguarding the forest and preventing destruction and the degradation of the ecosystem.
The Minerals and Mining Act, 2006 (Act 703) was passed in the regime of former President J. A Kuffour which among others gave the government the ultimate right to minerals mining and delegation of the same to private individuals. Under the conduit of this Act, any person who wants to mine within the territory of Ghana must apply for and secure mining rights from the ministry and a pass from the Forestry Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency to protect the forest and environment.
However, successive governments have failed to fully implement the laws due to political affiliations and fear of losing elections.
When these illegal activities heightened and the news media began to give more attention to the situation, the John Mahama administration felt the pressure and responded. A Presidential task force made up of military personnel was constituted to seize the mining equipment of galamseyers and stop their activities. The task force was at first successful at seizing mining equipment and deporting thousands of Chinese miners.
However, the Mahama government held back the task force as it faced threats and pressure from community members to vote against them in the build-up to the 2016 elections.
After the elections, the illegal mining activities escalated. Water bodies were polluted, and several hectares of the forest reserves were completely wiped out with no regard for re-afforestation. The Ghana Water Company warned of water shortages across the country if nothing was done to rescue the situation.
Consequently, another Presidential task force was constituted by President Nana Akufo Addo in 2018 to seize the mining equipment of these illegal miners and stop their activities. The task force was found complicit in a corruption scandal taking money from the miners to allow their activities to continue.
Freelance Journalist, Manasseh Azure conducted this investigation which indicted some ministers and powerful persons within the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) but the President failed to act on it citing reasons that the video was doctored.
The task force was dissolved after the expose and a new one was constituted in 2019 to continue with its mandate of stopping illegal miners and chain saw operators. Hundreds of excavators were seized by the task force but suddenly disappeared from where they were being kept. These excavators mysteriously found their way back to their owners.
The data is clear that galamsey activities account for most of the country’s forest depletion. Data from Servir Amazonia, a USAID subsidiary shows that Between 2015 and 2018 galamsey driven-deforestation in Ghana increased from 13,456 hectares to 29, 275 hectares. Also, the total extent of forest degradation in protected forest reserves affected by galamsey stood at about 1058, 000 hectares as of 2018.
Galamsey is the bad nut that must be cracked through all means possible. Its persistency is tantamount to no progress in preserving our forest. The seeming unwillingness of political actors to uproot this menace is a threat to the very course of the Green Ghana Project.
The involvement of politicians who should be protecting and implementing the laws in galamsey and other notorious activities must be checked if any progress will be made. The government must show commitment to resolving this canker by prosecuting their own when they are caught culpable.
The government needs to stringently enforce the law on illegal miners when they are caught. We need a strong and independent judiciary that is armored-ready to crack the whip on anyone caught culpable of the law.
Issues of improper land sales and leasing of government and restricted lands to politicians and estate developers as in the case of Achimota forest defeat in all angles the purpose of the ‘Green Ghana Day’. Government lands must remain the government’s own. Not at any time should a person be allowed to either buy or own these lands by any means.
The second edition of the Green Ghana Day was held yesterday, Friday, June 10, 2022, where some 20 million seedlings were planted. This will have minimal impact if galamsey and other activities which destroy our forest are still perpetrated.
Also, the government through the forestry commission and other designated bodies must ensure the planted trees are guarded to maturity.
These major drawbacks in the quest to regain our forest and avoid the menaces of the looming climate change must be obliterated if we want to reap the benefits of programs like the Green Ghana Project. Until then we can continue to beat around the bush and spend millions of Ghana Cedis on proxy schemes but the problem will still be persistent.