Community Forest Monitors receive death threats

Community Forest Monitors receive death threats

Ghana - 21 November, 2020

Some community forest monitors in the Sefwi Wiawso Municipality of the Western North region of Ghana have been complaining of threats on their lives by illegal loggers. According to them, their vigilance has become a source of frustration to these loggers and this is arousing enmity between them. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a middle-aged lady narrates how she receives physical threats from people who are bent on carrying out their illegal activities on the forests and landscapes, for what they term “spying on them.”

As part of efforts to restore the forests and landscapes, Tropenbos Ghana supports us to plant trees. But chainsaw operators burn and destroy the forests indiscriminately, including the trees we plant. Recently, the wife of a chainsaw operator threatened to sprinkle petrol on me in my room and burn my household, because she suspects I have been speaking against her husband’s illegal chainsaw activities,” she said. A 32-year old male community monitor also lamented that there are open threats on them because they try to prevent illegal activities in forests and landscapes. He indicated that he had received threats from a chainsaw operator because he had caused his equipment to be seized.

We the community monitors face many challenges in the discharge of our duties. Paramount among the challenges are the open threats we receive on a daily basis from people who are determined to destroy our forests and landscapes for their individual selfish interests. I have been receiving death threats, the recent one coming from a timber contractor because I had caused his equipment to be seized,” he said. Residents of the area have also appealed to authorities to save the Tano Suhyen Forest Reserve from total destruction, which is as a result of illegal farming and felling of trees. The rate at which the Reserve is being encroached is alarming and residents fear that their livelihoods will be heavily affected. Urgent measures are therefore needed to protect the Reserve and the landscapes before losing it to farming in less than 10 years.

Forest resources contribute about 38% to the total income of Ghana's forest dwellers and about 4% annually to the Gross Domestic Product of the country. However, with the current rate of deforestation, Ghana's forests could completely disappear in 25 years. The decline of the resource will negatively impact on the livelihoods of those who depend directly on the forest and the economy of the country as a whole. The Western North region is known for rapid loss of forest reserves. The Sukusuku Forest Reserve and Bia Tawya Forest Reserve in the region have been lost to farmers who heavily encroached upon them and cleared the area for cocoa farms. The Tano Suhyen Forest Reserve, a production forest reserve with a total area of 84.4 km2, is being degraded at a fast pace.

A drone analysis and ground truthing based on alerts from community monitors have revealed a rather disturbing picture. Nearly 60% of the area has been degraded, constituting over 13km2 of the reserve. To protect these forest reserves and landscapes, Tropenbos Ghana, through the Non-State Actors (NSA) project, works with community forest monitors who give alerts on critical issues affecting landscapes and forest reserves. Unfortunately, these community monitors have become targets in their various communities. They have been crying out on threats issued to them, some of which directly target their lives.

Low commitment and enforcement of forest and wildlife laws have contributed to increased encroachment of the forest reserves. Major issues that favour the encroachment include collusion between farmers and chiefs, low court fines, a quest for fertile land and inadequate monitoring. One means to curb the menace is to identify and tackle the drivers of forest loss – the physical human-induced and location-specific drivers of deforestation, such as agriculture. Intensifying agricultural activities can offer a wide range of benefits, given how much of the forest reserves has already been lost.