According to FAOSAT in 2020, Ghana’s forest cover is close to 7.99 million ha, accounting to 35.10% of Ghana’s total land area.
Although logging, cocoa farming, and mining have brought economic growth, they have come with significant costs to Ghana’s forest resources and ecosystem services. Forest loss leads to fragmentation of biodiversity corridors, loss of soil fertility and non-timber forest products, and emission of GHGs .
Deforestation is not a new phenomenon in Ghana, but rather reflects a pattern that has persisted for over a century. In 1900, Ghana had over 8 million ha of tropical high forest, but from the 1950s to 2000, 2.7 million hectares, over 60% of Ghana's primary forests, were lost. Based on analysis of data from 2001-2015 Ghana’s annual deforestation rate was approximately 3.51%, equating to yearly losses of greater than 315,000 hectares (ha). Total deforestation during this time period surpassed 4.7 million ha .
The loss of forests in Ghana presents tremendous socioeconomic risks for the country. Forests provide critical ecosystem services that support agricultural production and water generation (water catchment, soil fertility, non-timber forest product provision), and there is high dependence on forest resources and agriculture across the country for economic development and support for livelihoods. About 60% of the population, including 53% of women, are employed by the agriculture and forestry sectors. The cost of deforestation to Ghana is about US$400 million, equivalent to 0.7 percent of 2017 GDP .
Deforestation and forest degradation in Ghana is a rampant problem, mainly due to cocoa expansion, slash and burn agriculture, and illegal logging. However, legal timber harvesting, wildfires, wood fuel harvesting, charcoal production, infrastructure development, and mining (legally and illegally for gold and minerals, and for sand) are also direct drivers .
Key policies and governance approach
Two national bodies have overlapping mandates over the forestry sector in Ghana: Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources (MLNR) and the Forestry Commission. The MLNR is the ministerial body with supervisory responsibility for the management of Ghana's lands, forests, wildlife, and mineral resources. It oversees several agencies and independent commissions, including the Forestry Commission. The Forestry Commission has the constitutional mandate to develop and manage the country’s forest and wildlife resources, and its core is focused around 3 divisions - Forest Services Division (FSD), Timber Industry Development Division (TIDD), and Wildlife Division (WD) .
In 2012, Ghana updated its Forest and Wildlife Policy (FWP), which aims to (i) manage and enhance the ecological integrity of Ghana's forest resources, (ii) promote the rehabilitation and restoration of degraded landscapes, (iii) promote the development of viable forest and wildlife-based industries and livelihoods, (iv) promote and develop mechanisms for transparent governance, equity sharing, and citizen participation in forest and wildlife resource management, and (v) promote training, research, and technology development for sustainable forest management. The policy is aligned with other key intersectoral policies, including Ghana’s National Climate Change Policy (2012), the National Gender Policy (2015), and the Ghana Shared Growth and Development Agenda II (GSGDA) .
In addition, Ghana has a Forest Plantation Strategy (2016-2040) aimed at achieving a sustainable supply of planted forest goods and services to deliver a range of benefits. In partnership with the private sector, it aims to establish 625,000 ha of forest plantations, conduct enrichment planting over 100,000 ha of degraded forest reserves, and promote on-farm tree planting (agroforestry) across 3.5 million ha. Plantation development has featured prominently in all sector programs and the government has been adding approximately 10,000-15,000 ha/year through internal and bilateral funds .
Ghana has also developed a comprehensive national REDD+ strategy , a Forestry Development Master Plan (2016-2036) , and ratified a FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade) Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU .
The Ghana-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) is a legally binding trade agreement. It aims to ensure that Ghana produces and exports only legal timber and timber products to the EU by improving forest governance and law enforcement. Although VPAs are primarily concerned with international trade, one of the main reasons Ghana chose to pursue a VPA was to address illegal logging that serves the domestic market .
SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES
The prevalence of political interference, personal interests, and intimidation are crippling Ghana’s forestry sector institutions. As a result, management decisions and enforcement of laws at all levels are frequently driven by interests and opportunities as opposed to ethically and technically sound principles and laws. While the policies and strategies are focused on sustainable and equitable use and regeneration of the resources, the Government has struggled to follow through with effective implementation.
For example, illegal artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM), referred to as ‘galamsey’, derived from the phrase “gather them and sell”, poses a massive deforestation and forest degradation risk in Ghana. Despite bans, inter-sectoral task forces, and the deployment of Rapid Response Units, the incidence of illegal mining (mainly for gold) and illegal logging (rosewood harvesting in the Savannah Zone and illegal logging in forest reserves in the High Forest Zone) across the country is growing and the scale of destruction is highly worrisome. Without strong institutional and political will to implement transparent programs that hold offenders accountable, illegal resource extraction will continue unabated, causing severe damage to people and forests .
Initiatives and Development Plans
The Ghana REDD+ Strategy (GRS) outlines a broad plan to implement large-scale, sub-national emissions reduction programs that follow ecological boundaries and are defined by major commodities in each forest zone. The most advanced program is the Ghana Cocoa Forest REDD+ Programme (GCFRP), which targets the High Forest Zone and expansive cocoa production, and has strong support from the global chocolate industry. Other programs outlined in GRS include the Coastal Mangroves, the Togo Plateau, and the Transitional Forest Landscape Program .
In 2020, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) approved a project worth 54.5 million US dollars to address the alarming deforestation and forest degradation challenges in the Northern Savannah Zone of Ghana, whilst promoting investments in the shea value chain and women’s empowerment. The Ghana Shea Landscape Emission Reductions Project is expected to result in the restoration of 200,000 hectares of off-reserve savanna forests and 300,000 hectares of degraded shea parklands, as well as the establishment of 25,500 hectares of forest plantations in severely degraded forest reserves. It is expected that the activities will result in an estimate of over 6 million tCO2e in emission reductions and removals over the first seven years of the project’s lifetime and 25.24 million tCO2e over 20 years . The project will also directly strengthen the livelihoods and climate resilience of 100,200 people (78,850 women and 21,350 men) .
Goals and Ambitions
The goal of Ghana’s Forestry Development Master Plan is to ensure the conservation and sustainable development of forest and wildlife resources to create a balance between forest products services and marketing to satisfy domestic and international demands whilst ensuring good governance and transparent forestry enterprises development, biodiversity conservation and ecotourism development .
- Improve coordination, communication, collaboration across forestry sector relevant public authorities/institutions.
- Appoint institutional leaders who have technical appreciation and deep knowledge of forest resources management.
- Legislate tree tenure reforms, incentivize tree protection.
- Scale-up extension services promoting adoption of agroforestry models, especially in timber, cocoa.
- Offer material and financial support to trade associations in the forestry sector to foster partnerships with potential investors.
- Promote dialogue among regional tree crop producers.
- Harmonize/align forest monitoring & reporting methods.
- Enable no-deforestation supply chains.
- Enable investment in NTFP value chains, value addition.
- Enable sustainable cocoa production.
- Strengthen, scale-up Community Resource Management Areas.
- Expand wildlife tourism for middle-income clients.
- Recommit to sustainable forest management across the sector.
- Conduct a house-to-house tree registration campaign.
- Pioneer REDD+ forest reserves; incentivize sustainable forest, land, cocoa management, private sector engagement.
- Improve forest investment climate to promote foreign and domestic private investment; encourage extension of commercial credit lines to prospective timber plantation owners.
- Bring stakeholders together in participatory land use planning.
- Address illegalities and lack of transparency within the sector.
- Explore how to generate sustainable revenue from payment for forest ecosystem services.
- Prioritize research and development of new or under-developed forest resource value chains.
 World Bank. 2020. Ghana Country Environmental Analysis. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/33726 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO
 EUFLEGT. [Online]. Available: https://www.euflegt.efi.int/ghana.
 EUFLEGT. [Online]. Available: https://www.euflegt.efi.int/background-ghana.
 UNDP. [Online]. Available: https://www.climateandforests-undp.org/projects/ghana-shea-landscape-emission-reductions-project-gcf.