When the last tree dies…

When the last tree dies... forests
Bags of charcoal ready for the market

Farmers across the country are lamenting climate change is destroying their livelihoods and making it difficult for them to feed their families. Driven mainly by deforestation, the changing climate is causing the rains to fall less in communities. And when it falls, it’s usually so heavy it triggers flooding. And the weather pattern has become unpredictable.

A century ago, Ghana had more than 8.2 million hectares of forests but that has been depleted to about 1.6 million now. According to the Forestry Commission, about 65,000 hectares of forests are degraded every year. The farmers are feeling the pinch of this.

“Formerly, you see this forest range, it was helping the community. But this time, because they have gone into the forest to cut some of the woods, you can see now the pattern has changed and we don’t have enough rain,” Isaac Kwabena, a farmer in the Volta region told Joy news’ Hotline documentary. “That is a great problem; sometimes you go to the farm and you even don’t like to work because the sun has scorched everything,” he added.

At Mafi Akukorkpo in the Volta region, farmers complain the poor rainfall pattern is leaving crops rotting in the field. Blewusi Aziedorme, a farmer lamented cassava they had planted 14 months ago was still in the fields despite the fact that it’s matured and was ready for harvest about five months ago.

“The ground is too hard. It’s not raining and that is why we can’t uproot the cassava. But previously, the rain came as was expected,” he told Joy News.

In nearby Adaklu Kpetsu, charcoal burning is a brisk business. They cut down trees in the enclave to burn into charcoal. “A bag of charcoal can be sold for 90 cedis during the rainy season, so it’s good business. It’s more profitable than farming,” Akoto Christian, a resident said. His work is harmful to the forest and vegetation. But as far as Christian and many others in this community are concerned, this is what feeds a lot of families in this area. It doesn’t matter that the resulting impact on the environment.

In the absence of trees and the forests, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere increases. This traps a lot of heat in the air, thus interrupting the development of rainfall clouds. And when eventually the rain comes, it’s heavy, causing floods. This also results in an unpredictable rainfall pattern. “Whatever you do, is a cause and effect relationship. So the more damage you cause, the more impact we face from climate change,” Glen Asomaning who is Director of Operations at Nature and Development Foundation (NDF) explained.

The impact of the act of deforestation and illegal logging is bigger than just climate change. As the illegal timber merchants move the illegally cut trees through the forests, they end up destroying the farms of ordinary farmers. Daniel Odame, a cocoa farmer in the Jasikan District lost 2,000 cedis after illegal loggers destroyed his two-acre cocoa farm. “They came and fell some trees on my cocoa farm. I chased them but to no avail because I don’t know where they came from. It wasn’t easy,” he said.

Another victim of this destruction in the Jasikan District is Kwabena Morgan, cocoa, maize and plantain farmer. “Sometimes they will come, tell you that they need one tree, two trees but all of a sudden, you will see five, six trees on the farm destroyed,” he said. His community was recently left in darkness for three days after trees cut down by illegal loggers brought down electric poles.

As a result of the destructions being caused to the environment, food has become expensive in a lot of these areas. Residents say the price of maize, for example, has shot up by about 50% over the last year because of poor rains and destroyed farms. “Foodstuff has been reduced, productivity is low, and income generation is also very low. The cost of food has gone very high,” Coordinator of the Volta Regional Farmers Forum Kofi Yiadom told Joy News.

Water bodies are also bearing the brunt of these illegal logging activities. In the Dodi Pepeso area in the Volta region, the Esoko Oyaa River which stretches into the Oti and Volta Rivers is brownish after it was polluted by the operations of the illegal loggers. They tie ropes around the cut woods and drag them through the river, polluting it. Kennedy Akroma who is a traditional leader in the area says it’s sad that “they are destroying the river just to make money.”

Up north, the yam business which provides jobs for thousands in farming and trading is being hit badly by poor weather patterns. On the farm fields, plants are wilting and yams are rotting. “Because it was not raining, the yam has gotten rotten in the mound… If there were to be rain, there would have been more leaves on it,” Diwati David Yajedo, a local farmer lamented.

“Over a 3 to 5 year period, we get one or two rains at the beginning of the year. Farmers rush in to prepare their yam and plant. Then there is a dry sprout for another two months and then the yam gets rotten in the mound. So at the end of the day, the number of sprouts that they get in the field is less than they have planted. So the change in the rain pattern is actually affecting the production of yam,” Plant Breeder at the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute (SARI), Dr Emmanuel Chamba explained.

Diwati who has a 10-acre farm lost about ¢5,000 last year to this phenomenon. “I lost more than ¢5,000. In fact, almost all of them got rotten in the yam mound,” he said. Jonathan Nabia, also a yam farmer lost ¢2,000 to poor weather last season. “I don’t know the weather… but the rain doesn’t come. The yam I planted is now dying. For the money I have lost, it’s about ¢2,000 plus,” he said.

Sulemana Issifu who is with the Center for Climate Change and Food Security says the situation is troubling. “The north is a very volatile area. We know that they are at the two extremes of weather conditions; when it’s rainy, a flood occurs and when it’s dry, it is very severe. And the kind of extremity we have seen in the last two years, it can be nothing more than the consequences of climate change. And when that happens, we know plants cannot survive,” he explained.

Cocoa, Ghana’s most important cash crop is also feeling the impact of climate change. A forty-year-old cocoa farmer in Sefwi Frank Aduhene explains heavy sunshine burns young pods annually, thereby reducing yield. He says the situation cost him about 20 bags of cocoa last season. “Last year, because of climate change, I got 33 bags from my field instead of 50 because the sun scorched the pods,” he said. “When we started farming here, there were lots of trees on the field but the timber merchants came and cut them all on the authority of the land owner… That is why this is happening,” Mr Aduhene said.

The risk climate change poses to the cocoa sector is even greater. The projection is that rainfall in a lot of cocoa growing areas will decline by 2% in the year 2020 and 11% in 2050 and result in a 14% and 28% decline in cocoa yield respectively. By 2080, moisture is predicted to be inadequate for profitable cocoa production in Ghana if the current trend continues.

The ideas on possible solutions are several. Dr Emmanuel Chamba of SARI advocates for the adoption of improved, drought-resistant seeds. “It means we have to be developing varieties that will be fit into these shrinking rainy season. So we should be thinking of drought resisting seeds,” he said.

Even fishing activities are being hampered by climate change as Head of the Department of Marine and Fisheries Sciences at the University of Ghana Dr Angela Lamptey, points out.

“They go to sea and they can’t find fish because most of them have either been affected by climate change or changes in the environment or migrated to near-by water bodies where conditions are more favourable. So this brings about food security issues. When the temperature is not favourable, fishes will not reproduce,” Dr Lamptey said.

Director of the Institute for Environmental and Sanitation Studies at the University of Ghana Prof. Kwasi Appeaning Addo says a concerted effort is needed to tackle the problem, else the entire nation is at risk.

“As a country, we can help reduce the impact of climate change by ensuring that we maintain the forest. You know, we also need to embark on tree planting and as much as possible activities that will reduce carbon dioxide in the system should be encouraged,” he advised.

It’s everybody’s business to ensure that the current rate of deforestation stops.  Maybe someday when the reality of the destructive effect of climate change becomes inevitable, we will understand this old native American saying that; “it is when the last tree has been cut down, when the last fish is caught, and the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.”

Below is the link to the full video documentary

credit: myjoyonline.com

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Joe Bright Nyarko Journalist/Communication Researcher. Environment & Sustainability Advocate. Managing Editor of aptnewsghana.com, a non-profit news portal with bias towards environment and sustainability issues, rural development policies and gender & inequality.