Anokwale by GhanaThink,

Ghana Vision 2020: Environment

Forests of Ghana need protection.
Digging of gold, bad farming and building ruin the forest.
Bad farming ruins the land.
Digging of sand ruins coasts regions.
Maintain digging of gold.
Water destruction hurts beings and animals.

A global issue faced not just by low income countries, but by all countries, is how to reduce the environmental impact of people, industry and development. In 1995, Vision 2020 sought to spend the next 25 years fixing the problems of “pollution, deforestation, soil and coastal erosion and inefficient waste management.”[1] At the end of this period, how much progress has been made towards meeting these goals?

Deforestation

Since the 1960s, more than half of the world’s tropical forests have been lost to deforestation and forest degradation. These loses have occurred because of activities such as agriculture, construction and mining. Forests are important because they are home to nearly 80% of terrestrial biodiversity in the world, more than 1.6 billion people rely on them for their livelihood and they play a major role in climate change mitigation.[2] 

The rainforests only account for 6% of the earth’s landmass, making their preservation in countries like Ghana crucial.[3] Vision 2020 highlighted deforestation as one important issue to be addressed over the 25 years period, but it also highlighted the importance of forestry to the country’s development:

“Though forestry contributes only 4% of total GDP, it is the third largest source of exports and the principal source of energy. Excessive exploitation of forestry resources for both timber and wood fuel has imposed constraints on this sub-sector and created environmental problems.”[4]

Looking at the rates for deforestation since 2000, the figures show a negative trend in recent years. Over the period 2000-2018, for areas with a tree coverage of at least 30%, 15.6% of the tree coverage was lost, with an average of 60510ha annually. However, over the period 2000-2010, the average loss per year was 36974ha, compared to 89931ha for the period 2011-2018. The rate has more than doubled in recent years.[5] 

The latest data from the World Resources Institute lists Ghana as having the highest percent increase in tropical primary rainforest loss from 2017 to 2018, increasing by 60%.[6] This is attributed to some mining activity and the expansion of cocoa farms. In line with this, Ghana, along with Côte d’Ivoire, joined the Cocoa and Forests Initiative in 2017, committing to end deforestation caused by the cocoa industry[7]. Key achievements outlined in the 2018 National Implementation Plan include:[8]

  • Developing sustainable livelihoods for cocoa farmers, incorporating alternative income sources;
  • 100% traceability for supply chain mapping from farm to purchase;
  • Assuring the conservation of forests and wildlife reserves by the end of 2019.

According to a 2016 report by Ghana’s Ministry of Lands & Natural Resources, illegal logging led “to the loss of about 80% of Ghana’s forest resources under state management.”[9] The majority of this loss had taken place in more recent years. There are also concerns about the government’s recent deal made with China to fund $2 billion for roads in Ghana, in exchange for access to 5% of Ghana’s bauxite reserves.[10] There may be more similar ‘resource for roads’ deals in the future, which could have a significant environmental impact.[11] This puts into question how serious Ghana is about preserving its forests.

Desertification and coastal erosion

Vision 2020 sought to “ensure that economic activities in rural areas, especially agriculture, forestry and mining, do not cause environmental degradation.”[12] With agriculture a main form of income for a large portion of the population, especially in the highly populated rural areas, land degradation poses a real threat to the livelihood of many people in Ghana, as well as having a negative impact on the environment.[13]  Soil erosion leads to decreased soil nutrients[14] and water stress for crops,[15] leading to poor productivity and desertification.

The two main causes are population growth in overpopulated areas where agriculture is the primary income; and poverty, which results in rain-fed mixed farming with poor yields. To supplement their income, many farmers clear vegetation and trees to sell as fuel.[16] The falling rate of agricultural contribution to GDP reflects the lack of progress made in agricultural practices to assist with land degradation over the last 25 years. From 1995 to 2017, agriculture’s contribution to GDP fell by 19%.[17] According to the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Report from 2015, 14% of Ghana’s total land area is considered degraded.[18]

Coastal erosion is another area that Vision 2020 aimed to address. Coastal erosion is caused by a number of factors, but a major cause is the rising sea levels due to climate change.[19] It is estimated that by 2100, the sea level will have risen by 50cm, posing a problem for coastal towns.

Unfortunately, Ghana has not managed to mitigate the effects of coastal erosion due to inefficient policies and solutions. One of the major human-induced contributors to coastal erosion is sand mining. Sand mining is a practice used to make materials such as concrete and glass for the construction industry.[20] Despite this practice being illegal in Ghana, informal sand mining still takes place all along the coastline of Cape Coast.[21] A field study conducted by Jonah et al. in 2014 evaluated the level of sand mining taking place along the coastline. The study noted that there was “no sustained regulatory and enforcement activities” observed to stop the practice.[22] The study also found that “285,376 m3 of beach sand was mined annually by commercial sand miners alone,” contributing to coastal erosion at a rate of 0.85m/year.[23]

Sustainable use of natural resources

A key measure outlined in Vision 2020 was to “ensure optimal exploitation of natural resources on a sustainable basis.”[24] The World Bank estimates the cost of forest, energy and mineral depletion as a percentage of gross national income (GNI) for each country. When looking at this figure for Ghana,[25] there has been an upward trend since 1995. In 1995, natural resource depletion was 6.8% of GNI and in 2017, it was 11.4%. This trend is worrying, as it affects the country’s overall wealth and also highlights a lack of management of natural resources.

Practices like illegal mining have knock-on effects for the environment. In recent years, the cocoa trade in Ghana has suffered due to illegal mining. Desperate cocoa farmers sell the use of their land to illegal gold miners, often backed by investors from foreign countries such as China, who destroy the land while excavating and leave without any clean-up or restoration of the land. Despite a record year for cocoa in 2011, with the production of over one million tonnes, the practice of illegal mining impacted production, which dropped to 740,000 in 2015[26]

Vision 2020 acknowledged the threat posed by pollution in multiple areas, including contamination of water bodies through refuse, untreated effluent, agro-chemicals and poor sanitation practices.[27] The situation does not seem to have shown much improvement. According to the Water Resources Commission in 2017, 60% of water bodies were polluted, many of which were considered critical.[28] This has an impact on the health of the population and the availability of drinking water, as well impacting aquatic life.

Looking at the overall picture for the sustainable use of natural resources, it is clear that Ghana still has many of the same problems as it did in 1995, some of which have been exacerbated over the years.

The long-term measures outlined in Vision 2020 for achieving environmental sustainability and creating an enabling environment lacked specificity, which is perhaps indicative of the commitment level and investment the government was willing to make within this area. While there have been some positive steps taken in the past 25 years, most interventions taking place are run by NGOs and the progress has been slow. In particular, activities like illegal mining, poor support for farmers and a lack of enforceable policies and laws have slowed progress for Ghana.

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