Mr Speaker, today, marks the United Nations day for the Forest, and I rise to make this Statement accordingly.
Mr Speaker, I wish to begin this Statement with a quote by an internationally renowned Kenyan environmental, political activist and Nobel laureate, WANGARI MAATHAI. She said that ‘The environment and the economy of any Nation are really two sides of the same coin. If we cannot sustain the environment, we cannot sustain ourselves'.
Mr Speaker, it seems to me this quote by the environmentalist is a true reflection of what pertains in our Nation, and perhaps, Africa and the world to a larger extent.
A study described by its authors as the most comprehensive analysis of
tropical forests has disclosed that Ghana has the highest rate of deforestation, out of 65 nations, apart from Togo and Nigeria. The illegal act of felling trees has become one of the commonest offences in Ghana today. Some culprits are caught by the law, the fortunate ones are never caught, while others are sometimes deliberately let to go by guardians of the law.
Every day, the forest zone of the country is tampered with legally and illegally, making one wonder what would become of the nation's forest areas in the next 50 years.
According to Alex Morales, a humanitarian, the study, which was published by Wood Products Trade Group, an international tropical timber organisation in Yokohama, Japan, continued that Togo lost an average of 5.75 per cent of its forests every year from 2005 through 2010, while Nigeria posted a 4 percent rate and Ghana losing 2.19 per cent of forests a year.
It is difficult to understand why in this age, we still struggle to protect our forest reserves. Vast ancient woodlands are at risk of extinction. They are disappearing at an alarming rate.
Mr Speaker, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), indigenous forests in Africa are being cut down at a rate of more than four (4) million hectares per year, twice the world's deforestation average. According to the FAO, losses totaled more than 10 per cent of the continent's total forest cover between 1980 and 1995.
Poor forest management policies, including unrestricted logging, excessive harvesting of firewood and medicinal plants and road construction contribute to the problem as do drought, flooding, forest fires and other natural disasters.
The collection of wood for heating and cooking and for making charcoal is a particular problem in Africa. Since wood constitutes about 70 per cent of domestic energy needs, -- a significantly higher percentage than the rest of the world.
It is a fact that, Africa's rural poor are particularly dependent on its forests. Although forest products, primarily unfinished logs, account for only about two (2) per cent of sub-Saharan Africa's exports, forests generate an average of 6 per cent of the region's gross domestic product that is triple the world average.
Eighteen African countries, including Cameroon and Ghana, are among the 24 countries worldwide that rely on forests for at least, 10 per cent or more for their economic stability.
Although environmentalists and advocacy groups have brought international attention to unsustainable, and often illegal, logging in Central and West Africa, about half of all the wood extracted from Africa's forests is used domestically as fuel. Despite the enormous losses to deforestation, the region is a net importer of processed wood products.
Mr Speaker, the conversion of forest lands to agriculture for both subsistence and commercial, is by far the most common and most destructive cause of deforestation in Africa and other tropical regions. As demand for farmlands grows in response to population pressures, millions of hectares of tropical forests are being put to the torch in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
There is another quote by Mahatma Ghandi which says that ‘What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a
mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves'. Mr Speaker, we need to take a critical interest in this and exercise maximum caution.
It is also interesting to know that commercial logging happens to be the second largest contributor to deforestation in Africa, threatening the continent's existing indigenous forests and, in some cases, its political stability.
Part of the problem, says environmen- talists and forestry experts, is the common use of clear cutting and other unsound methods that strip large areas of trees and vegetation, damaging the forests' ability to retain water and provide habitat for animal and plant life. Clear cutting sometimes erodes the exposed soil to a point at which natural regeneration or reforestation efforts are impossible.
Mr Speaker, UN and non-governmental researchers report that, the indiscriminate, labour-intensive methods common to logging operations in Central Africa and other developing regions waste as many as half of the trees cut down through destruction of non-commercial varieties and clearing of forestland for roads, logging camps and work areas. Much of the refuse and surrounding bush is burned, releasing carbon back into the atmosphere.
The inability of many developing countries to regulate and manage their forests due to conflict, weak law enforcement, poor administrative authority and corruption has allowed illegal logging to flourish.
In 2006, the World Bank estimated that annual losses to illegal logging totalled $15 billion globally, including US$5 billion in government revenues lost in unpaid taxes, royalties and other fees.