WHY HAVE SO MANY FARMERS’ CHILDREN ABANDONED THE LAND? (2) by CAMERON DUODU
These days, hunters and trappers have a hard time: chainsaw operators have driven all the animals away from our farming areas. If the animals have survived, they can only be found in the deep deep forests, which, not too long ago, we were forbidden to enter because they were designated as “forest reserves”.
Ha – what has happened to these “forest reserves”? I strongly believe that the very Government that mapped out certain areas as “forest reserves”– for a very very good reason, having to do with the preservation of the ecology and the retention of our natural climatic endowments – has itself been doling out parcels of the forests to timber contractors as “concessions”.
Yes – timber concessions. Arbitrarily granted by Ministerial say-so and published in the ‘Gazette’! Of course, the moment timber contractors get into a forest, that is the beginning of the end for the forest. The timber contractors themselves may respect the conditions under which the Government gave them the concessions. These may include an undertaking to spare young trees from being cut down. Even so, a lot of young trees are inevitably destroyed when the big timber is cut down. For a big tree cannot fall without shattering scores of neighbouring young trees to pieces. As for the number of saplings it carries with it, they must be counted in thousands. They die, unable to fulfil their destiny of becoming big trees themselves.
But usually, despite the wanton pillage carried out on them, forests can recover. Yes, despite being
brutally assaulted by timber contractors. However, a most tragic thing is happening to our forests, before our very eyes. As soon as the timber contractors leave an area, chainsaw operators take advantage of the “opening” up of the forest reserve to concessionaires, and illegally invade the forest. Working at night or on Sundays, when there are no people in the vicinity of the forest to challenge them, they set to work to finish off the young trees that the timber contractors have left behind. Even big trees deliberately left alone to help the forest to to restock itself, fall prey to the greed of these chainsaw operators. Apparently, the forestry department is either unwilling or unable to end their nefarious activities.
Indeed, one of the saddest professions to get inducted into in Ghana must be that of the forestry officer. Some of these ‘rangers’ — the honest, efficient ones — risk their lives ignoring the possibility that they will be bitten by poisonous snakes or attacked by dangerous animals, in order to preserve our forests for us. But the very Government that pays them to do this, then turns round and gets corrupted by timber contractors who plead to be allowed to destroy our forest reserves. “Oh, there will be plenty of trees left!” the contractors tell the Government. And they pay money to shut the mouths of anyone who can oppose their desire to cut down our magnificent trees. Gradually, conscientious forestry officers have dwindled in numbers and can now be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Hence the unrelenting depletion of our forests. Some species of Ghana hardwood timber have already become extinct, or are nearing extinction. I am no expert in this field but I believe that odum andmahogany, as well as the extraordinarily beautiful Afromosia, are now gone, or difficult to find in our forests. Even the humble owawa is either threatened or has died out. Here is a quote from official
reports on the situation:
“Pericopsis elata (Afromosia),
Milicia excelsa (Odum), Khaya spp.
(Mahogany) and Entandrophragma
angolensis (Edinam), for example, have
been subjected to more than 1300 %,
800 %, 900 % and 600 % exploitation
respectively, and there have been
significant decreases in the cut since 1989.
(Ministry of Lands and Forestry, Draft Forestry
Development Master Plan 1996-2020. Pp 6-8 1996)
So pathetic has our wood industry become that I recently read something which made me almost weep: we now want to import wood from Cameroon!
Has anyone in our Government asked himself: why is it that Cameroon has enough wood left in its forests to sell to Ghana, while Ghana has destroyed its own forests to such an extent that it wants to import wood from Cameroon? Instead of buying wood from Cameroon, shouldn’t we be sending our Forestry people to go there to see how that country managed to preserve its forests — despite being subjected to the same commercial pressures as Ghana –, so that its methods can be imitated by us?
Of course, that won’t happen, for we know only too well, just how our own forests got destroyed. We are the only country in the world that can stand by and deliberately destroy the trees that safeguard the water resources bequeathed to its citizens in forests like that in the Atewa Range, in Akyem Abuakwa, just to enable gold-digging companies to make money. Our officialdom places money above human beings and thus our law enforcement agencies stand by and watch, as “galamsey” operators dig huge holes all around our towns and villages, in search of gold. We watch and do nothing, as our villages and towns are denuded of the rivers and streams that, from time immemorial, have provided our people with the drinking water that is their life-giving legacy and which made our ancestors choose to settle in those towns and villages in the first place. Are we mad, then? Assuredly, we must be mad.
Yet our Government blithely tells us that it is leading us towards a “Better Ghana”.
Bbppppp! [This is a sound of derision that escapes from the lips of many a forest-dwelling villager, when disgust causes him or her momentarily to lose the use of words.] Its synonym, slightly more elaborate but an eloquent cry, nevertheless, of mockery-and-anger-combined, is: Tweaaaah! The closest English comes to finding an equivalent expression is Tchah! It is much much milder!
The destruction of the forest and all it contains causes some of us anger and frustration because there is a magic in those hills and valleys that is impossible to convey to those who are not acquainted with woodlands. The variety of the vegetation on the ground; the wealth of the undergrowth that shrouds the soil; the canopy of leaves that shields us from the sun and yet allows in enough sunshine to make almost everything visible; the mystery of the unseen things that make eerie noises: animals and creepy things that are heard but not always seen; the cool comfort in the air that suggests that some extra-sensory creatures must be lurking peacefully about close by — be they the spirits of the trees or sprites from the streams or fairies flying about in the hillocks and valleys; or, for all we know, ghosts of the dearly departed, watching over us and perhaps uttering words to us that we could not hear.
Oh Forest Green! Are we not fools to raze you to the ground with chainsaws and machines that eat your flesh without being able to taste it? You allowed us to make farms in your bowels because you knew we would respect you and not kill your children, unless it was absolutely necessary. But now, commerce has come and taken whole logs out of you, to put on trucks (at a charge) that take them into ships that sail with them away to Europe and America (at a charge) to make furniture out of them, some of which we import back (at a price)! Why couldn’t they make the furniture here, at a fraction of the cost of the imported version? Heads they win, tails we lose…But we license them!
We went to school. And there, when the teachers wanted to punish us for coming late, they said “Go and weed the park!”
When we were talkative, they said “Go and weed the compound!”
When we absented ourselves, they said “Go and work in the school farm all morning!”
When we played truant, they said “Go into the forest and bring bamboo sticks to mend the school fence!”
So we, the children of farmers, began to hate the cutlass and the hoe. The cutlass and the hoe which are the farmer’s friends and upon which our self-sufficiency was traditionally based.
So we stopped farming. We preferred, instead, to become like our teachers, or find similar work that obliged us to push the pen. Or tighten screws. Or sell things.
Soon, we were eating rice (imported) as our staple food. Bread (made from imported wheat). Potatoes (imported). Tinned meats and fish (imported). Chickens reared from day-old chicks (imported). Or frozen meat and fish in enormous varieties (mostly imported).
We sit in offices and make decisions that inexorably result in cutting the ground from under our own feet.
But we are waiting for someone else to come and tell us we’ve been stupid.
Isn’t that an incendiary bit of insanity?