THE ILLEGAL WOOD LOGGING AND CHARCOAL BURNING CONUNDRUM IN WASIPE AREA
Wasipe youth, time to arise and change the trajectory. Now or never!!
The Wasipe area of the great Gonja land of the Savannah region is one of the endowed areas of the region in almost all aspects of life ranging from social, economic, human, and ecological resources. According to the 2010 Population and Housing Census’s District Analytical Report by the Ghana Statistical Service published in 2014, the District has a population of 43,547 with a total number of 4,793 households.
It further reveals that the General Fertility Rate is 135.8 births per 1000 women aged 15-49 years and a Crude Birth Rate (CBR) of 31 per 1000 population. This is clearly promising and postulates a fairly growing population with a vibrant youth and development potentials.
In terms of the climate situation, the same report indicates that the district lies in the tropical continental western margin and characterized by a single rainfall pattern with a prolonged dry season with the peak occurring between March and April. In the area of agriculture, almost nine out of every ten of the population (87.3%) of households in the District are engaged in agriculture, Crop farming is the main agricultural activity with more than nine out of ten (96.4%) households engaged in it.
Of the population of 11 years and above, 24.9 percent are literate and 75.1 percent are non-literate. The District is also noted for its rich smock weaving in Ghana which serves as a tourist attraction with a high percentage of the youth mainly males engage in but only restricted to the district capital-Daboya.
Enough of the literature? No! Very essential because they are indicative of a lot of prospects for the future despite the level of our vulnerability. The main drivers of this article are the consequences of the rigorous charcoal burning and illegal wood logging activities happening in the district.
Each time I see a truck load of charcoal or fresh logs towed out of the district at the full glare of the people of Daboya, my heart sinks deep into my abdomen and several questions begin to juggle my brain cells. The questions range from whether this is caused by selfishness, ignorance or utter impunity among our authorities, and this gives me sleepless nights sometimes.
I am a ‘only’ a teacher working in the district capital of Daboya but I barely see myself as a stranger due to how socially attached I have become to the good people of the great Wasipe area.
Therefore, my conscience would not allow me if I sit aloof knowing that I can make a change by making a little input in the form of awareness towards an immediate halt of these economic and environmentally devastating activities of indiscriminate charcoal burning and illegal wood logging.
As a greenhorn in agricultural economics and climate change, it is very important I put this into perspective by relating the impacts of the aforementioned activities on climate change, economics, agricultural production and food security.
This is because, agriculture forms the back bone of the people. Hence, if radical actions are not taken now to stop the activities, we would be doing a great disservice to our descendants and a total crippling of the livelihood of the next generation in the very near future.
I will first like to draw the correlation between charcoal burning/wood logging to climate variability and climate change and then finally highlight the economic impacts this relationship pose to the populace in the field of agriculture and food security.
So what are climate variability and climate change? These terms may be confused to be same but they slightly differ. Climate variability in essence looks at changes that occur within a smaller timeframe, such as a month, season or a year whilst climate change considers changes that occur over a longer period of time, typically over a decade or longer.
These changes refer to drastic climatic changes among the climatic variables such as rainfall, temperature and humidity. For instance, unpredictable rainfall pattern and high temperatures which all have a heavy bearing on agricultural production and food/nutrition security among us. This is because almost 100% of our farmers are peasant by nature and fully depend on rainfall for crop cultivation. Charcoal burning and illegal wood logging are the key causative agents of both phenomena.
There are several lessons to be learned. Let us not look far. The Wa East, the Sissala East and West districts of the Upper West region are the recent areas that have witnessed the devastating impacts of charcoal burning. Several researches have started revealing food and nutrition insecurity situations that are closely linked to climate change and climate variability which are perpetuated by the unmanaged charcoal burning activities over a decade ago in those areas.
Also, in almost all countries especially Uganda, Malawi and Mozambique where charcoal is produced, there have been reports highlighting concerns about deforestation and forest degradation that accompanies the production process and we all agree that degradation represents the temporary or permanent reduction in the density, structure, species composition or productivity of vegetation cover.
Charcoal is a fuel that is produced by carbonization of biomass and the impacts of charcoal on ecosystems occur at every stage from the production to consumption.
The forest (do we even have a forest? I mean our savannah) is rapidly becoming depleted due to the human quest for fuel wood. The fast disappearance of trees may influence climate change which may in the long run affect crop yields and deepen poverty. The disturbing part is that we apparently derive only marginal economic benefits through the levies we collect from the producers currently and pretend or behave as if everything is all right. Forgetting that both our generation and our great grandchildren are seriously short changed and depleted of their right to economic, social and environmental freedom as well as their health.
Have we thought about the effects these activities may also have on one of the unique and priced-possession of the Savannah region. That is the Mole Park? The sustenance of the park and its wildlife depends on how we manage the ecosystem around it. This is because of how proximal the park is to the areas in which these activities take place. Pollinating agents such as bees and some bird species who play very important role in enhancing the growth and maintenance of our forests and vegetation are being killed and endangered as a result of these distressing activities.
What is more worrying also is the lack of any efforts by the tax collectors of this illegal and life threatening activities to be transparent and or invest into sustainable ventures that can serve as alternative livelihoods for our people in the future. Or even undertake activities that can help replenish the environment that has been degraded drastically.
The last time I took a field survey into the bush along the Daboya-Bawena road, I was shell-shocked by the level of destruction done to the environment, and more disturbing was to see that some very important economic trees like the shea tree was hacked to the ground and the trunks and branches cut into appropriate billets or logs that are piled to form kilns for carbonization into charcoal.
Although charcoal and firewood will continue to provide the bulk of the country’s cooking energy fuel for the foreseeable future, its long term prospect for sustained supply is threatened by deforestation and desertification in some parts of the country and that part should not include North Gonja district. Charcoal production in the district therefore must stop now and the youth who have voices should trumpet this ideology at every platform in order it to make this an issue of weighty concern to policy makers/implementers in Wasipe and Ghana at large.
The greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted through the carbonization of the charcoal cannot be accounted for. This has led to the warm environment and volatile rainfall pattern we are currently observing in the Wasipe area and beyond. The trees and vegetation that would have served as carbon sinks are the very ones being destroyed and burned to release carbon, methane and other related GHGs that hampers the ozone layer leading to higher temperatures and global warming. The impacts are felt now and would even be more devastating in the near future if exigent measures are not taken. The deserts we see in Mali and Niger would be a common disaster for our great grandchildren to deal with as ‘legacy’ we have left for them.
The illegal wood logging exercise that seems to have halted is still seriously active despite the media attention it got in recent times. We all can agree that forests are an important component of the natural capital of every society because they provide numerous benefits critical for rural populations such as our case, urban areas, the national economy and the global community.
I trust that when ecosystem services provided by forests are accounted for, forests will make a direct and significant contribution to the national economy via gross domestic product (GDP), with the application of multiplier effects.
The famous Mole Park is one clear example. The benefits are enormous and may also include agricultural support services, erosion control and soil sediment retention and most importantly carbon storage and sequestration.
But what do we see happening in our forests today? Chinese and Ghanaian business men who do not have any aorta of respect for environmental sustainability and the livelihoods of our poor farmers, but for their selfish profits are trooping into the district with all manner of impunity and offering relatively paltry sums to our leaders and in return, take truckloads of our precious trees away.
Enriching just a few locals at the detriment of the majority. You will be shocked to the marrow when you see the level of destruction this activity does to the ecosystem. From hacking down trees to dragging them on the soil and grass to vantage areas for loading, all these activities destroy the vegetation by killing young plants, grass and creating channels for water run-off during rains.
The problem is that the specific trees that are removed are the large once with a lot of canopy, hence, exposing the forest to a more reduced canopy cover. The remaining trees then suffer collateral damage, both from the removal process and from the dragging and dumping of the logs. This leaves the forest with lower species diversity and reduced regeneration of seedlings and saplings. Where are we heading to?!!!!
Solutions and the way forward:
The District Assembly has a huge role to play in solving these problems. I remember how my planning and development expert friend once revealed to me about the huge opportunities in the form of funding available for our Assemblies to tap into, just by adhering to some environmentally sustainable projects such as forests conservation. The government of Ghana is a signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and has been actively involved in the a number of programs aimed at addressing the climate change challenge such as the development of the Ghana National Climate Change Policy document.
In this document, there are several projects and interventions with huge sums of money available for district assemblies who undertake innovative projects towards the conservation of their environments.
One such interventions is the REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation). It is an enhanced version of the mechanism for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD), which emerged in 2008, building on the ideas of conserving and sustainably managing forests, forest restoration and reforestation. Have we thought about the employment opportunities that comes along with this initiative?
So why does the experts sitting in the splash offices of our district assembly and are paid with our taxes be aware of these benefits but still sit aloof and watch selfish individuals destroy our forests in return for peanuts as levies? Is it that they themselves are involved in the act? How accountable are they to us on the levies they collect? Your presumptions are as good as mine!
The solutions to this charcoal burning conundrum in my opinion are in two folds. That is; to stop it outright or to adopt a sustainable exploitation of wood fuels. Immediate stop to the activity would involve high level engagements that would engage the services of law enforcement agencies or a relentless pressure from the youth on the appropriate authorities like the District Assembly and the Traditional Rulers to ensure the complete stoppage to this unjustifiable activity.
Sustainable fuel wood production and its efficient utilization can be achieved through adoption of improved energy technologies, with sustained efforts to eliminate waste of limited wood resources.
This may also be achieved through a resolute and collective efforts by the government and the local authority to ensure that the lost vegetation and forests are replenished. This would streamline and regulate the production process that ensures that we get a larger and broader cut of the cake as well as sustaining our environment. This would also help the district assembly stand the chance of benefitting from programs such as the Africa Climate Change Fund earmarked for countries that implement innovative projects aimed at low GHGs emission.
The benefits associated with the sustainable charcoal production also include increased carbon sink and moisture reservoir, enhanced household energy security, entrepreneurial opportunities created through sales of poles and firewood, increased soil fertility for food production, reduced CH4 (methane) emissions to the atmosphere, and CO2 reduction (reabsorbed by growing vegetation).
All these will restore our rainfall pattern and volume as well as restoring the average atmospheric temperature to normal that supports crop production leading to high yields in terms of both quantity and quality which would ensure food and nutrition security for our people. Hence, the economic benefits would follow for everyone to see.
Food security, poverty and climate change are closely linked and should not be considered separately. Agriculture is still our back bone as people of Wasipe. Let us not deceive ourselves about the unstable and quite fickle market situation of our alternative livelihoods such as the fish and smock industries.
Agriculture, for that matter food is the only driver that can sustain us for a very long time and we should never compromise on the environment that serve as food basket for the district. Let as arise now and save ourselves and the next generation. For I believe that the greatest change we can make as concerned youth is to irritate people in power to undertake the change we desire.