Open Case Studies/FRST522/Ghana

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Illegal logging in Action

Illegal logging in Ghana:the cut and run affair by Grace Sarbeng


The country Ghana lies on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea with a population of about 26.79 millions and covers a total land area of approximately 22.75 million hectares [1]. With a forest cover of about 41%, the forestry sector contributed to 3.38 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2011. As a net exporter of forest products, the value of forest product exported in the year 2013 was worth US$283.2 million [1] However, illegal logging, enabled by poor forest governance and driven in part by trade, is a major contributor to deforestation in the country. [2] Illegal logging has no internationally agreed definition. However, Brack (2007) defines it as harvesting, transporting, buying or selling timber in violation of national laws” (insert reference).

Framing the Problem: A Forestry Perspective

Over the past decade, Illegal logging has become an issue of local, regional and global concern. It is therefore not surprising that both local (producers) and international bodies (consumers) are jointly fighting against this menace. Globally, it is estimated that illegal logging takes place in about 70 countries, most of which are tropical and developing [3] Ghana happens to be one of the developing countries endowed with rich tropical forest and the country is currently combating illegal logging through various national and international initiatives. A study conducted by Hansen & Treue revealed that illegal logging in Ghana is primarily confined to the most valuable species and to the permanent forest estate. According to them, 2.3 to 2.7 million m3 (70%) of timber is harvested illegally. The major actors in this illegal business are the chainsaw operators, who basically fell to meet domestic lumber demand, accounting for two-thirds and the timber export industries accounting for one-third of the illegal harvest [4]

Framing the Problem: Layering Perspectives

The description above describes illegal logging in Ghana from the perspective of a forestry student. In this section we welcome contributions from other perspectives. Those interested in contributing to this case study may use the following questions as a guide:

  1. How do scholars and professionals outside of forestry conceptualize the practice of illegal logging in Ghana?
  2. What are other possible ways of framing this problem?
  3. What special expertise, resources, or theoretical orientations might others bring to help us understand this phenomenon better?

Historical Context

Prior to colonial rule, the forests in Ghana were owned in common by communities (families, clans and ‘stools). However, the country’s Forest Ordinance of 1927 gave authority to the colonial government to reserve part of the country’s forest [5] As a result of that, a majority of Ghana’s forests is in public ownership: this means that forests are owned by the people and managed and controlled by the government for the benefit of the people and in the public interest [1]. This implies that local people, including fringe communities, are entitled to an equitable share of the economic rent from the exploitation of forest resources including timber. However, this is mostly not the case as people who live close to forests tend to be generally poor and do not benefit from its timber exploitation as set out in the Constitution [6] This has resulted in lots of conflicts as local communities encroach upon forest lands to engage in agricultural activities for income generation [7] The high prevalence of illegal activities (logging, mining, and farming) in the Atewa Range Forest Reserve of Ghana, for example, is one example. Local people who engage in various illegal activities in the forest explained that they do not have alternative sources of livelihoods as their land has been taken by fiat under the principle of eminent domain by the state, leaving them with no option than to encroach to earn a living.

Implications: A Forestry Persective

Environmental and Economic

Since its existence, illegal logging has mostly had negative consequences on nature and society in diverse ways. Illegal logging accounts for a greater percentage of forest degradation and deforestation, which in turn reduce biodiversity and ecosystem services provided by forests.[8]. Secondly, government loses substantial amount of revenue to this illegal activity. According to The World Bank (2004), about US$ 5 billion of government revenue is lost globally each year because of illegal forest activities. [9] Brack (2007) added that the market value of products resulting from illegal logging exceeds US$ 15 billion annually. It is believed that developing countries battle with poverty because the money lost to illegal logging could be used for developmental projects which could reduce poverty (Hansen & Treue 2008). Also, the rule of law is undermined by the various corruption activities associated with illegal logging [10] Furthermore, illegal logging depresses domestic and international forest product prices [11]More seriously, illegal logging is likely to serve as a major funding source for armed conflicts and rebel groups [12]


Farmers with merchantable timber trees standing on their farms suffer from devastating effects of illegal logging in many cases. The Constitution grants fringe communities ownership to merchantable timber in off reserve areas. However, this ownership right appears to be a mirage since communities or individuals cannot fell or sell merchantable trees species without permission from the Forestry Commission of Ghana. The burdensome processes involved in requesting and being granted permission to cut merchantable tree deter individuals or communities with those tree species from acquiring felling licenses, thereby depriving them of what rightfully belongs to them[5] One other major resentment of such communities or individuals is the damage caused to their food and cash crops by logging firms through their operations. Most often than not, farmers are not compensated by these logging firms or individuals as demanded by the Constitution. Since farmers are left out in the access and benefit sharing process and allegedly destroy valuable tree species on their farms before concessionaires have access to the trees. [5]


Forests in Ghana play a major role in maintaining spiritual ties between man and divinity. Almost all the tribes and religious groups in Ghana acknowledge that forests provide a linkage between themselves and their deity. As a result of that many forests were set aside by different ethnic groups to serve spiritual and cultural purposes such as sacred groves, ancestral resting place (cemetery), ceremonial grounds, amongst others. However, a majority of these groups have little or no access to such cultural grounds since the government took over. This has resulted in the rise of illegal activities in such places because fringe communities no longer serve as stewards.

Implications: Layering Perspectives

The description above describes the implications from illegal logging in Ghana from the perspective of a forestry student. In this section we welcome contributions from other perspectives. Those interested in contributing to this case study may use the following questions as a guide:

  1. How could someone from a different discipline or profession add to the implications above?
  2. What other implications become apparent when illegal logging is viewed through the lens of other disciplines and professions?
  3. What special expertise, resources, or theoretical orientations might others bring to help us better understand the implications associated with illegal logging in Ghana?

Initiatives to Combat Illegal Logging

Government’s effort to combat illegal logging at both national and international levels led to the signing of an European Union (EU)-Ghana Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) in the year 2009 [13]. The VPA aims to ensure that all timber and timber products destined for the EU market from partner countries comply with the laws of their respective countries. In addition to promoting trade in legal timber, VPAs address the causes of illegality by improving forest governance and law enforcement. More importantly, VPAs look beyond trade to consider development and environmental issues, as well as effects on local populations. [14] To fully meet the legality assurance aspect of the VPA, the government has to tackle chainsaw milling activities from all angles [13]. This is partly due to the fact that it is suspected and supported by some evidence (TIDD/ FORIG 2009) that some timber processed through chainsaw operations finds its way to sawmills for reprocessing and to the export market [15] Another initiative by Ghana Wildlife Division, an arm of the Forestry Commission, is the Community Resource Management Area (CREMA) mechanism which aims at supporting community resource management in off-reserve (un-gazetted) lands for economic and livelihood benefits. It provides the conditions and rules that enable communities to benefit from sustainable natural resource use and as such promotes community rights and local ownership. Additionally, the CREMA has the potential to help solve many of the key challenges for REDD+ in Africa, including definition of boundaries, smallholder aggregation, meeting the Free Prior and Informed Consent guideline, ensuring permanence, preventing leakage, clarifying land tenure and carbon rights, as well as enabling equitable benefit-sharing arrangements. Although the CREMA concept officially emerged from the 1994 Forest and Wildlife Policy, it took the better part of a decade for communities to put it into action[14]

Recommendations: A Forestry Perspective

Rural communities are pivotal in the conservation and management of forest resources. Therefore the forest governance structure should be revised to include rural communities in the decision making and co-management processes. Also land and tree tenure rights on State owned lands as well as communal and leasehold lands should be reviewed. This would enhance stakeholder understanding of decision making and benefit sharing which both come with responsibilities. Again, a fair and transparent benefit sharing structure should be designed to ensure equitable access and benefit sharing. According to the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous Peoples have the right to self-determination and shall not be relocated (or subjected to other types of activities or transactions) without free, prior and informed consent. Therefore fringe communities must have knowledge of the proposed projects and must give their consent openly and freely. It is valuable because it helps to inform community members, identify problems ahead of time and find alternative solutions.[16]

Recommendations: Layering Perspectives

What recommendations might someone from another discipline or profession make to combat the issue of illegal logging in Ghana? Examples might include:

  • Law
  • Geography
  • Environmental Science
  • Social Justice
  • Economics
  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Philosophy


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. (2016). State of the World’s Forests 2016. Forests and agriculture: land-use challenges and opportunities. Rome.
  2. Osie-Tutu, P. (2010). Hidden forestry revealed: Characteristics, constraints and opportunities for small and medium forest enterprises in Ghana(No. 27). IIED.
  3. Toyne P., O’Brien, C., & Nelson, R. (2002). The timber footprint of the G8 and China: Making the case for green procurement by government. WWF International, Version, 2.
  4. Hansen, C. P., & Treue, T. (2008). Assessing illegal logging in Ghana. International Forestry Review, 10(4), 573-590.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Owubah, C. E., Le Master, D. C., Bowker, J. M., & Lee, J. G. (2001). Forest tenure systems and sustainable forest management: the case of Ghana. Forest Ecology and Management, 149(1), 253-264.2001). Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Owubah" defined multiple times with different content
  6. Wiggins, S., Marfo, K., & Anchirinah, V. (2004). Protecting the forest or the people? Environmental policies and livelihoods in the forest margins of Southern Ghana. World Development, 32(11), 1939-1955.
  7. Angelsen, A., & Kaimowitz, D. (1999). Rethinking the causes of deforestation: lessons from economic models. The World Bank research observer, 14(1), 73-98.
  8. Curran, L. M., Trigg, S. N., McDonald, A. K., Astiani, D., Hardiono, Y. M., Siregar, P. & Kasischke, E. (2004). Lowland forest loss in protected areas of Indonesian Borneo. Science, 303 (5660), 1000-1003
  9. Brack, D. (2007). Illegal logging. Briefing paper. Chatham House, London, United Kingdom. 4 pp.
  10. Smith, J., Obidzinski, K., Subarudi, S., & Suramenggala, I. (2003). Illegal logging, collusive corruption and fragmented governments in Kalimantan, Indonesia. International Forestry Review, 5(3), 293-302.
  11. Turner, J. A., Maplesden, F., & Johnson, S. (2007). Measuring the impacts of illegal logging. ITTO Tropical Forest Update, 17(3), 19-22.
  12. Kaimowitz, D. (2003). Forest law enforcement and rural livelihoods. International Forestry Review, 5(3), 199-210.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Tropenbos International Ghana (2015). Understanding Ghana’s Timber Legality Assurance System. Tropenbos International Ghana, Kumasi, Ghana, 25pp
  14. 14.0 14.1 Asare R. A., Kyei, A., & Mason, J. J. (2013). The community resource management area mechanism: a strategy to manage African forest resources for REDD+. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 368(1625), 20120311 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Asare" defined multiple times with different content
  15. Marfo, E. (2010). Chainsaw milling in Ghana: context, drivers and impacts. Wageningen: Tropenbos International.
  16. ,Arhin A. A. (2014). Safeguards and dangerguards: a framework for unpacking the black box of safeguards for REDD+. Forest Policy and Economics, 45, 24-31.