22 people have been arrested in Tumu in the Sissala West and East Districts of the Upper West Region by joint security personnel for various offences in the forest reserves. Their arrest is in connection with unlawful entry, illegal farming, cattle ranching, illegal logging, and many other illegal activities going on the forest reserves along Ghana, Coe Divoire and Burkina Faso borders. The 22 individuals are made up of foreigners from Burkina Faso and their Ghanaian counterparts. They have all been arraigned before the court on 20th November 2019 and were charged with 200 penalty units which one penalty unit cost 12 Ghana Cedis totalling 2,400.00 per each.
The District Forestry Manager of the Sissala West and East Districts Mr. Jasper Yao Dunyah who confirmed this to the Coordinator of Jaksally Development Organization Mr. Seidu Jeremiah who has been vocal against illegal harvesting of rosewood, commercial charcoal burning, wood, and other timber species in the Savannah Ecological Zone said the level of destruction in the various forest reserves due to inhumane activities is worrying.
It is also a follow up by the organization to witness and also to confirm a verification and identification exercise that was carried out by the forestry commission upon the order of the court to offload the vehicle that was alleged to be carrying rosewood after it has been impounded by the police in Tumu on Friday 15th November 2019 at Kasana.
He said the operation Koudanlguo III which started on Monday 18th November 2019 by a joint team of security personnel such as the police, Military, Fire Service, Immigration, GRA, Custom Division, Forestry, and many others made up of 110 men including officers has been successful as a number of arrests have been made in the two day operation.
The exercise is aimed at preventing terrorist activities, illegal resource extraction, drug trafficking, dealing in illicit arms smuggling, among other transnational crimes.
Mr. Yao Dunayah said the seven forest reserves in that part of the country are under attack by charcoal burners, cattle ranchers, farmers, loggers, and many others.
He said if this integrated operation is localized and done on a quarterly basis with all the organizations coming on board to support the forestry commission it will go a long way to sustain and maintain the crime level in the protected forest reserves along the country borders.
“The crime level at the various forest reserves along Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, and Burkina Faso borders is worrying because the commercial charcoal burning in the protected areas is doing sweeping -clean-felling of any tree species including economic trees such as shea, Dawa Dawa, even mango trees for charcoal” he stated.
Mr. Yao Dunyah called for more education and communication strategy to get people to understand the need to plant trees by communal or individual wood lots, fast-growing species that can serve as raw materials for charcoal.
He said charcoal burning is an industry that cannot be done away overnight because it is something that has been inherited from our forefathers because it serves as a source of livelihood for many people especially those living in the rural areas.
“Charcoal burning is an industry that cannot be done away, but I always says that it is a generational industry, they inherited from generation to generation and so you cannot use a particular generation to kill it; government must let the people understand and modify the business by buying into the idea of charcoal production so that it can regulate the system and prevent these mass sweeping -felling of trees in our forest reserves” he said.
Mr. Yao Dunyah indicated that the radical approach by Civic Society Organizations and other environmental groups to totally stop people from cutting and burning charcoal and the fight against climate change is not the way to go. But he said the commercial charcoal burning must be checked in order to ensure sustainable management of the forest and the entire value chain.
“I’m of the view that confrontations and radical approach with these people will not help but letting them understand that the way they are cutting these trees are not the best way to ensure sustainable use of our forest but they should be encouraged to plant before cutting, cutting before planting,” he said.
Mr. Yao Dunyah also called on the government to fast track the reservation process to ensure that the state can be able to secure the proposed forest reserves and if there is a need to consider any community of land hunger.
He said many of the communities that fall within the seven forest reserves in the Sissala East and West which are currently under attack are claiming ownership of the reserves because they said that the government has not compensated them since the time of reservation.
There are many of these communities that claiming ownership of the reserves because they are saying that during the time of the reservation by their grandparents the compensation due them has not been paid and therefore they will not recognize any legality of reservation by government.
Mr. Yao Dunyah added that some other communities want to reclaim their land because of the increase in population and other farming activities.
“If you study all the reserves not all of them are gazetted so government must trade consciously to ensure that those forest reserves that are not gazetted till today are worked out because the communities are struggling legally to take them back because the land belongs to them and so they must farm” he stated.
He stated that in five years to come all the forest reserves in the Savannah Ecological Zone will be gone if steps are not taking to prevent it.
Mr. Yao Dunyah suggested that there should be a national policy to get people to plant and nature at least a tree during birthday celebrations. This he believes will help green and restore the already depleted vegetation in the Savannah ecological zone and ensure good climate change.
“The celebration of birthdays with huge sums can do this country good when people are encouraged to plant during birthday celebrations he indicated.
Mr. Yao Dunyah called for more efforts by the government to strengthen the regulation regimes, its implementation, and enforcement targeting people to let them understand that the indiscriminate cutting down of trees is not right and therefore they should always be encouraged to plant while they cut.
He said the harvesting regime in timber products be introduced into rosewood in order to check how many trees are been harvested or planted.
Mr. Yao Dunyah raised concerns over lack of logistics and personnel at the division in the two political districts adding that it is negatively affecting their operations. He urged the government to resource the commission with modern tools because their staff is always being attacked by poachers.