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Canadian Firm Searches for Sunken Treasure in Ghana:  Trees

A Canadian based company, Clark Sustainable Resource Developments, CSRD, has begun exploratory work to harvest trees submerged under Volta Lake in Ghana. The project, which is being funded by North American financiers including Goldman Sachs, is expected to bring in millions of dollars in revenue. From Accra, Ghana, Voice of America Reporter Joana Mantey tells us this is the first time a company is exploring the possibility of logging heavy hard wood under water in the tropics.

On a bright and sunny August morning, the company is busy adding finishing touches to its new offices in the East Legon suburb of Accra. The office’s completion comes just after the recent signing of an agreement between CSRD and the Ghanian government aimed at exploiting the lake’s buried resources.

Michael Brouse is the General Manager of CSRD in Ghana. He says previous attempts made in the northern hemisphere involved only small soft trees.

He’s in high spirits and hopeful that work on the Volta Lake will yield good results.

The lake was formed about 40 years ago by the construction of the Akosombo Dam over the Volta River. The dam provides electric power to Ghana and also serves as means of transport for small boats.

There is no doubt about the presence of hardwood in the lake. The dam submerged seven separate forest reserves located along the stretch of the 470 kilometer river. They contain valuable tree species such as mahogany, odum and papao.

Brouse says the trees are in good condition because they have been deprived of air and oxygen -- factors which aid the process of decay. However, he says the main problem is the kind of technology to use to harvest the trees, “The technology that would be used to develop this does not exist at all. We are in the process of formulating plans around several different versions of what technology that might be.”

CSRD is preparing for the project’s first phase which involves testing technology and doing a survey of the forest. A special boat has been procured by the company for the exercise. Brouse said it would be fitted with sonar technology, a facility used in submarines to detect obstacles under water.

This would help the company to take an inventory of the reserves, including the sizes of the trees and distances between them. But that is not all that is needed. He says additional work is being done by the company’s engineering team based in Houston, Texas. “Those in Houston are looking at potential technology that could be used under the water. We will combine this with findings from the survey and come up with technology that suits the harvesting conditions under the water.”

The Forestry Research Institute in Kumasi, Ghana, has already tested some tree samples taken by CSRD. Brouse said actual harvesting would be done under the second phase, after the results from a survey paper have been presented to the government.

He declined to speculate on the value of the reserves but it’s believed to be in the millions.

Nayon Bilijo is the Executive Director of CSRD. He says findings of the sonar survey will be combined with old photographs to assess the value of the trees. “We do know that gazetted forest reserves are under the water but because they were protected forests and not used for production, no stock survey was done. So today you cannot go to the archives and get records as to number of trees and be able to calculate and put a value on it. We believe there are several of such trees but we need to do further studies.”

Some analysts say the value of the trees may need to be high in order to motivate Canadian financial leaders to support the venture.

Under the agreement between CSRD and the Ghanaian government, 80 per cent of the proceeds will go to the company and 20 per cent to Ghana.

The Country Director of CSRD, Robert Johnson, says the deal is fair compared to what others in the extracting industries, such as mining, pay Ghana.

He said the removal of the trees from the Volta Lake will offer other benefits to the country,“Part of the message is the safety issue. Removal of the stumps would clear the fareways so that the accidents that are normally associated with the stumps will be a thing of the past.”

He says as part of its preliminary investigations CSRD has met with communities along the lake and other environmental groups to discuss issues of interest to the parties involved.