Ghana’s forests and the people who depend on them face an illegal logging and mining epidemic. The country’s illegal exports of rosewood accounted for 10 percent of global trade in 2016, much of it from the highly sensitive savannah ecosystem. Mining in forest reserves is threatening the water resources of local communities as well as the country’s vital biodiversity. Civic Response and other Ghanaian civil society groups are therefore calling on their government to revoke mining permits in protected areas and take action to end illegal logging.
In February 2017, Ghana’s new Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, John Peter Amewu, issued a directive that aimed to “restore sanity” in the forest sector. Civil society groups commended the mandate, which calls for an action plan to deal with illegal logging and mining in forest reserves; halts all special logging permits issued after December 10, 2016; and bans all rosewood exports. However, civil society groups also noted that further action would be necessary to protect the country’s people and forests, especially to address permits issued before December 2016.
In a July 2016 press release, Civic Response and other organizations called on government regulators to revoke a permit that allows mining in the Tano Offin Forest Reserve, a protected area in the country’s Ashanti region. Tano Offin is home to a diverse ecosystem as well as to the Offin River, which provides local communities with water for domestic and agricultural activities.
“Mining in forest reserves has been met with resistance not only from CSOs but also from regulators including the Forestry Commission,” Civic Response said in the release. “[This is] justifiably so, considering the increasing degradation of forest reserves, dwindling forest cover and the havoc that surface mining has caused to the State even [outside of protected areas].” Civic Response has also criticized mining in other forest reserves around the country, including the Fure River Forest Reserve and the Upper Wassa Forest Reserve.
In addition to concerns over deforestation, illegal mining in Ghana’s forest reserves has polluted the water resources and farmlands of local peoples living along the reserves’ edges. Communities fringing the affected reserves vehemently protested the mining projects, but rather than addressing communities’ concerns, some mining companies responded by hiring private security forces to intimidate community members.
The tension between companies and local peoples playing out across Ghana is indicative of a larger trend of investor-community disputes that was highlighted in a recent RRI analysis on the global state of land and resource rights. The report found that many companies still disregard community land rights when making investment decisions, leading to conflicts that can devastate local communities and be costly for investors. A critical mass of influential investors and companies now recognize the market rationale for respecting community land rights, but implementation on the ground has been slow.
Accompanying research by RRI and TMP Systems found that many large multinational companies active in West Africa have made commitments to respect tenure and reduce deforestation, but improvements on the ground are hindered by long supply chains and the resistance of local suppliers to change their business models.
In order to tackle these conflicts in Ghana and protect the country’s forests and biodiversity, Civic Response and other CSOs are calling on the new Minister of Lands to take his efforts to clean up the forest sector a step further. Because illegal permits were issued long before December 2016, they recommended that the minister initiate an investigation into illegal mining and logging permits in the country’s forests. A serious investigation to clean up the forest sector could preserve the resources that Ghana’s people depend on—improving the lives of communities and protecting the forests for generations to come.