Kofi Annan once said that “the world is not ours to keep. We hold it in trust for future generations”. This year, as we mark the Intentional Day of Forests, we are reminded of the importance of halting the continuous decline in forest resources. The theme for this year, “Forests and sustainable production and consumption" is apt as sustainable management and use of forest resources are key to combating climate change, and to contributing to the prosperity and well-being of current and future generations.
Forests cover nearly a third of the earth’s surface and support the livelihoods of more than 1.5 billion people around the world. Yet, 80% of natural forests have either been cleared or degraded with the world losing over 12 million hectares of primary forests between 2019 and 2020. In Ghana, according to data from the Global Forest Watch, the country has lost an equivalent of 8% of total tree cover between 2002 and 2020. With the current annual deforestation and forest degradation rate of 2% - equivalent to 135,000 hectares loss of forest cover – Ghana’s tropical forests continue to face the danger of depletion if efforts at sustainable management are not strengthened.
The Government of Ghana is already taking bold and commendable steps to reduce forest loss through interventions such as the Ghana Cocoa and Forests REDD+ Programme, the Ghana Landscape Restoration and Small Scale Mining Project and the Ghana Shea Landscape Emission Reductions Project. These interventions advance the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12 through forest restoration, sustainable production, and consumption of green commodities across Ghana.
Ghana also joined over 100 world leaders who pledged to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030 at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. This pledge reiterates and reaffirms the role of forests in balancing greenhouse gas emissions and removals. It will also help in adapting to the impacts of climate change, in maintaining healthy ecosystem services, and thus ensure sustainable use of the earth’s forest resources. This landmark declaration is timely as the world is faced with an uncertain future according to a recent assessment report on the world’s forests.
Driven by unclear land and tree tenure systems, and unsustainable agricultural practices, Ghana’s forest resources remain at risk. Cocoa production contributes between 54-77% of the country’s forest degradation. Initiatives like the Cocoa Life Programme being implemented by UNDP, Cocoa Board, Forestry Commission, with support from Mondelez International, are providing solutions by promoting sustainable agricultural production. Through the programme, farmers like Grace and Naomi are helping to restore degraded forest reserves like the Ayum Forest Reserve by planting economic trees in degraded forest reserve land. Similarly, farmers like Moses and Ama are not only reaping the benefits of joining other farmers to plant over 1 million economic trees in their cocoa farms but are also contributing to efforts to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change.
Advancing sustainable production and consumption in forested areas will require turning declarations and pledges into concrete actions. These actions must respond to current and future challenges to drive the kind of transformative changes required to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. The actions must also be far-reaching and more inclusive in three key areas.
First, promote green forest-related commodities. With an enhanced and transparent approach to traceability of all green commodities, Ghana can unlock immense opportunities for people and the planet through sustainable production. Building on the work by the Ghana Cocoa Board in the cocoa sector, more can be done for other commodities such as shea and cashew.
Second, support inclusive commodity platforms to ensure that no one is left behind when it comes to engagement and decision making. Commodity stakeholder platforms are a key avenue for effective multi-stakeholder engagement. Bringing all actors -including women and youth - together on inclusive platforms should be explored to help address forest degradation across various supply chains and hold actors accountable to commitments.
Third, strengthen partnerships with the private sector and local communities. In Ghana, the cocoa private sector has already made clear commitments towards sustainable production and consumption through the Cocoa and Forest Initiative (CFI), which has been an ongoing partnership with the Government. It is important that, such partnerships are strengthened, and communities are engaged to ensure that related actions are effectively monitored and reported on.
In conclusion, if Ghana and other countries are to succeed in advancing forests and sustainable consumption and production, we must work to adopt sustainable agricultural practices, address land and tree tenure-related issues, and build collaborative platforms to ensure sustainable management of forests for people and for planet.
As we hold the forests in trust for future generations, we will also be able to enjoy all the benefits from the air we breathe, to the food we eat and medicines we use. Sustaining forests will sustain our life and livelihoods on earth.