Saturday, July 7, 2007
Is Ghana on track managing her natural resources and environment?
By: AMA KUDOM-AGYEMANG
If you were asked to state your response to the question “how far have we, as a country, managed our natural resources and environment since independence”, what would be your response? The candid thought-provoking response by the Director for Africa, WWF-International and Professor of Zoology, University of Ghana, Legon, Professor Yaa Ntiamoa-Baidu, would interest and engage you as it did me.
“I would say that we have done very well in putting in place policies and institutional structures for managing our forests and wildlife resources, but we are very weak on implementation, and therefore our forests and wildlife resources continue to be depleted; we have made very good progress on providing safe water for our people, but there is still a lot to be done; we are failing miserably on sanitation and waste management”.
Professor Ntiamoa-Baidu was delivering the Fifth Ghana Golden Jubilee Lecture at the Accra International Conference Centre on the topic “Managing Ghana’s Natural Resources and the Environment Since Independence: A Critical Assessment. The lecture formed part of activities marking the national celebration of World Environment Day on Tuesday June 5, 2007.
The import of this particular lecture had to do with the fact that a healthy and productive environment is a pre-requisite for development. Moreover, poverty reduction, to a large extent, depends on the health and good stewardship of the environment.
Thus, while the focus of the country’s 50th Anniversary Celebration is basically on development as seen in the light of socio-economic, cultural education, health and wealth creation indicators, there was the need to take stock of the environment and natural resources sector as well.
Professor Ntiamoa- Baidu focused her presentation on four components that she considered ‘very basic to the development of our nation”, namely forest and wildlife resources in the natural environment sector and water and sanitation for the human environment.
Her treatment of the topic was simply deft. She first of all placed the issues within the proper context, saying the first post-independence population survey carried out in 1960 recoded a population of 6.7 million, compared with a little over four million recorded in the pre-independence census done in 1948. “Today Ghana’s population is estimated at between 22 to 23 million “, she added.
Using figures and graphs, Professor Ntiamoa-Baidu said the number of settlements had increased significantly, while the land area under cultivation for the main food crops had increased drastically from 880,179 hectares in 1965 to 3,291,000 hectares in 2002.
She said apart from agriculture, other activities that contributed meaningfully to the country’s GDP and also impacted on forest resources and the environment were logging and mining. Professor Ntiamoa-Baidu noted that these activities had also increased tremendously over the years.
Touching on the general well-being of the people, she said “the trends in welfare indicators show that we have made considerable progress, the human development index for Ghana has improved, life expectancy has moved up from 49.9 years in 2006 and adult literacy improved from 30 per cent in 1970 to 76.9 per cent in 2006.
Professor Ntiamoa-Baidu then traced the evolution of institutional and policy structures for natural resource and environmental conservation in Ghana. She said the beginnings of formal forestry dated back to the early 1900s, when the rapid expansion of cocoa farms and increasing rate of forest clearing led the colonial administration to imitate steps to ensure that at least some primary forest lands were conserved. So by the time the country gained independence, in 1957, the target of 20 per cent of the forest zone under reservation had been achieved.
Professor Ntiamoa-Baidu, who is founder of the Ghana wildlife Society, an environmental conservation NGO, stated that attempts to preserve game wildlife by central government also went as far back as 1901 with promulgation of the Game Preservation Ordinance. Then in 1965, the Game Branch of the then Forestry Department was upgraded to a full department known as the Game and Wildlife Department with responsibility for managing Ghana’s Wildlife resources both within and outside conservation areas. It is now known as Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission under the Ministry of Lands, Forestry and Mines.
She mentioned the adoption of the 1994 Forest and Wildlife Policy, saying it contains “very compelling statements of the nation’s intentions to manage the natural resources and environment”.
On environmental observation, Professor Ntiamoa-Baidu said Ghana heeded the call and established the Environmental Protection Agency in 1974. It operated as an advisory body for some 20 years until 1994 when it was transformed into the Environmental Protection Agency, a corporate body that can sue and be sued according to the EPA Act 490, 1994.
On the issue of “taking stock of how we have managed our natural environment,” she observed that two key lessons could be drawn. One was that “whatever the motive of the colonial administrators was for establishing protected areas, the end result has served our country very well because without these reserves, there will be very little forest left in the country”.
The second lesson was that “the degree of socio-economic development that the country has attained since independence could not have happened without some adverse impact on the environment.” Fact has been that forest had to be cleared for additional settlements for the growing population and for agricultural production to feed the people, minerals had to be mined for the much needed foreign exchange, timber and other forest resources needed to be extracted to feed industries.
In Professor Ntiamoa-Baidu’s opinion,” the issue we should be concerned abut now is not how much of the original forest is lost, but how we can effectively protect what is left and manage the current rate of utilization to ensure sustainability”.
She made several recommendations, which included the need for the Forestry Commission and the Ministry of Lands, Forestry and Mines to address the issue of reserves that “exists only on paper.” Her suggestion was for the Commission to explore options such as community and village reserves that encourage communities to engage in forest-regeneration.
Another option was for the timber industry and the forest sector in general to embrace the Forest Certification System, which is currently being developed for the country. Professor Ntiamoa-Baidu noted that Forest Certification is a management system that would help minimize illegal logging. She hinted that WWFis currently working on a pilot base with five timber companies to promote certification.
Professor Ntiamoa-Baidu lauded the Greening Ghana Initiative launched as part of the Golden Jubilee Celebrations, saying “it is an excellent idea,” but questioned what happens to the inactive after the end of the year.” Her rather charismatic suggestion was for the initiative “ to be turned into a national campaign, one that every Ghanaian is involved in,” adding, “Let us declare every public holiday a day for the environment, where every Ghanaian is required to take one concrete action that contributes to improving the Ghanaian environment –planting a tree”.
Touching on the issue of the placement of the Environment Ministry, she stated that “environment is a cross-cutting field and I strongly recommend that it should be treated as such and not be confined within the mandate of a single ministry”.
Painting a picture of what the country’s human environment looked, Professor Niamoa-Baidu declared, “Ghana today is in a crisis: Uncontrolled housing developments, mounting solid waste, blocked drainage systems, heavy air pollution, noise pollution…” She added that “our precious nation is becoming engulfed in filth and this is a huge time bomb that is waiting to explode”.
Professor Ntiamoa-Baidu was of the view that the proportion of the problem is such that it cannot be left for the government or government agencies alone to find solutions. To her, “the most cherished 50th anniversary present that we can give to ourselves should be a CLEAN ENVIRONMENT”.
The conclusion of her presentation was a reflection on the declaration by Dr Kwame Nkrumah at midnight of March 5, 1957 that “the battle has ended and Ghana is free forever”. Professor Ntiamoa-Baidu pointed out that “50 years of the battle has not ended, we should be aspiring for the vision of a ‘larger freedom’.
A vision of “freedom from poverty, freedom from want, freedom from hunger, but also freedom from the deafening noise from beer bars and charismatic churches that keep you awake at night, freedom from filth and stench that we find all round”.
Daily Graphic - Saturday, July 7, 2007. Page: 10