During my days as a student in KNUST, we were discussing deforestation one day and I remember a friend told me that it was impossible for all the trees to disappear and hence he added that there was absolutely no need for me to study Forest management. That is the extent to which we can take the trees and forests around us for granted. Contrary to my friend’s view, there is no doubt whatsoever that all the mature trees can indeed vanish. Current trends of degradation and deforestation suggest that much of our country will end up as desert within the next half century. See tables 1 and 2 below.
According to Mongabay.com, between 1990 and 2000, Ghana lost an average of 135,400 hectares of forest per year. This amounts to an average annual deforestation rate of 1.82%. Also, between 2000 and 2005, the rate of forest change increased by 4.2% to 1.89% per annum. In total, between 1990 and 2005, Ghana lost 25.9% of its forest cover, or around 1,931,000 hectares.
Table 1: Ghana’s Forest cover 2010
- Total Land Area (1000 square kilometers) — 22754
- Total Forest Area (1000 ha) — 4940
- Percent Forest Cover — 22
- Primary Forest Cover (1000 ha) — 395
- Primary Forest, % total forest — 8
- Other wooded land (1000 ha) — 0
- Percent other wooded land — 0
Table 2: TOTAL FOREST COVER (1000 ha)
- Year ——- Remaining cover
- 1990 ——- 7448
- 2000 ——- 6094
- 2005 ——- 5517
- 2010 ——- 4940
As seen in table 2 above, the forest cover continues to decrease from 1990 to 2010. This suggests that if pragmatic measures are not taken to halt or reverse the trend, Ghana could be moving towards serious problems.
In this article I intend to assess the tree resource of our nation, highlight their important uses and hence redirect public interest towards tree planting and forest protection in general. First of all it may be prudent to answer the question of what a tree is. One great Forester defined a tree as any plant which is big enough such that you can climb it. For the purposes of this article I think it is sufficient but from a more scientific point of view, a tree is any plant greater than 5min height and with an upright stem.
It is an undeniable fact that trees play a vital role in our very existence as humans. They perform vital ecological, environmental, cultural, economic, and spiritual functions. Trees release oxygen through photosynthesis, enabling animals and humans to live. Many people may be familiar with the expression “when the last tree dies, the last man dies” but the question is, how seriously do we take this saying?
Trees are important for maintaining the energy balance of the earth. They also play a vital role in the water cycle and hence can help regulate rainfall distribution and intensity. Also, trees bind soil particles together thus minimizing the risk of soil erosion and may also serve to maintain and improve soil fertility. Trees are also found to be useful in conserving and prolonging the life span of water bodies as they tend to conserve the moisture levels. Due to the soil-binding properties of the roots, trees can also help prevent siltation of water bodies through erosion. Furthermore, trees have the potential to minimize risk of floods by regulating surface and subsurface water flows, thus enabling gradual recharge of groundwater. Firstly, trees prevent the direct physical impact of heavy rains on the soil. Secondly during rains, water is intercepted by tree leaves, branches, stems and roots and this is released gradually thus preventing what would otherwise have been a direct one-off input of water into the ground. Though not the complete solution to flooding, floods are more likely to occur where there are no trees than where there are trees.
Trees also play a vital role in nutrient cycling by taking up nutrients from the deep parts of the soil (with their deep rooting system) and returning it through litter fall to the top soil where other plant roots (with different rooting strategies) can make use of the nutrients. In this regard, if appropriate species are selected, trees may help to improve fertility and thus improve crop yields and productivity. This is why our farmers must be encouraged to embrace the planting of trees on their farms. Trees also help to reduce wind speeds thus playing a crucial role in reducing damage associated with storms. A house with no trees around it is more likely to have the roof taken off as compared to one with lots of trees. Private households and public buildings must be encouraged to plant lots of tall trees around to minimize the occurrences of wind disasters that happen on a yearly basis in the country.
Planting trees would also help improve our health. The more trees we have around, the more refined the air around. Trees help to absorb carbon dioxide, dust and other gases present in the air and thus may reduce air related diseases.
Last but not least, trees provide shade to allow us to hide from the searing heat of the sun. We all know the relief we feel when we get under a nice shade after a long walk under the sun. Trees are also known to store carbon and thus reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This helps to fight climate change and global warming. It is known that the amount of carbon currently stored in trees is twice as much as the amount in the atmosphere now (IPCC 2007). Imagine what would happen therefore if all of this is released into the atmosphere as a result of deforestation. This means that we would have three times as much carbon dioxide as we have today and several times as much climate related disasters as we have today. Another important issue to mention is that tropical trees store twice as much carbon as trees in the temperate zone (Ravindranath and Madelene, 2008), hence it is even more important to protect our trees and to plant more. Temperate regions are particularly reliant on tropical regions for storing carbon up in trees.
Comparing the deforestation rates with the amount of replanting in Ghana, I feel it would be right to say that trees have been more a rejected resource than protected. I would make the following recommendations as a way of helping improve the tree cover of the nation.
1. Our housing laws must be restructured to ensure that every one who builds a house also incorporates tree planting around the house. This will reduce the amount of destruction caused by wind. Note also that trees planted around houses must be well managed to reduce risk of damage from tree fall.
2. The media should devote some time to raise awareness on tree planting as well as tree protection. What people hear more often tends to influence their perceptions and behaviours hence if more about tree planting is talked about, it will hopefully help. Tree planting should be a daily affair and not a special thing that happens once in a year.
3. Agroforestry practices should be embraced and farmers should be encouraged to incorporate tree planting into their normal agricultural activities.
4. Government and other development partners such as NGOs should introduce schemes that provide farmers with incentives to incorporate tree planting activities as well as reward farmers who do not cut down already existing trees on their farm lands
5. Government and other development partners should provide seedlings for interested farmers at low cost and also encourage community wood land establishment
All said and done, this piece of work will come down to a mere rhetoric if no action is initiated as a result of it. I encourage readers to plant a tree each upon reading this article. Come to think about it, can we not plant a tree each year say on our birthdays? I am pretty sure that this would not be too much to accomplish and we can each find land at home, or at the office to do this. Plant it on your birthday and assess how well you have done by your next birthday and plant another one.
Plant a tree today and save your local environment and the climate and the world
Credit: Guuroh Reginald
2. IPCC 2007. Synthesis report
3. Ravindranath N.H and Madelene O., (2008). Carbon Inventory Methods Handbook for Greenhouse Gas Inventory, Carbon Mitigation and Roundwood Production Projects