Ghana is aiming to plant 20 million trees Friday as part of an annual campaign to save forests that have been depleted by climate change and illegal mining. The U.N. says Ghana has one of the highest losses of rainforest in the world, with its forest cover only a fifth of what it was a century ago.
According to the forestry commission, between 2019 and 2021, the West African country lost over 300 square kilometers of primary forest, forcing timber processors in the country to import trees from neighboring countries.
Speaking at a public event on Friday to begin the national tree-planting event dubbed Green Ghana Day, President Nana Akufo-Addo said the economic impact of forest degradation is alarming.
"Here in Ghana, we've lost some 100,000 acres of natural forest in the last decade alone. Our timber industry, which generated jobs for thousands of people, is suffering," he said. "The odum, wawa, mahogany, sapele and several other wood species of the timber industry are also depleting at an alarming rate."
Lands and Natural Resources Minister Samuel Abu Jinapor told VOA the situation is worsening and called for immediate action.
"We've a serious crisis on our hands and that is why the president has brought up a two-pronged strategy to deal with this matter," he said. "The first strategy is to ensure that we halt deforestation, which is why we are not granting concession for the harvesting of timber species anymore. Then the second pillar is what we call the aggressive afforestation and re-forestation, which is culminated into this Green Ghana."
Across Ghana on Friday, the forestry commission handed out trees to schools, businesses, religious groups and other organizations to distribute to their members. The commission also gave seedlings to individuals and asked them to plant the seeds at home.
The inaugural Green Ghana Day was held last June, during which 7 million trees were planted. Jinapor said it was highly successful.
"Last year, we targeted 5 million seedlings and we ended up planting 7 million seedlings," he said. "The biggest issue to do with any afforestation or re-forestation scheme or effort has really not so much to do with planting, but the survival rate. I am very happy to report that the forestry commission is done a nationwide assessment and come with a firm conclusion, which is well grounded, that 80% of the seedlings we planted last year have survived."
Environmental activist Joann Ofori said that only a sustained, well-funded program can protect Ghana from the ravages of climate change.
"We've lost over 80% of our forest cover as a nation to greenhouse effect, climate change, global warming and they are real. And if for nothing at all let's look at the rainfall pattern over the years. So we've got to do something about it, otherwise we are doomed," Ofori said.
She said the Green Ghana initiative would be meaningless unless Ghanaians make it a part of their culture to care for trees all year.
"We have to have a mindset change and realize that trees are for life. When the last tree dies the last man dies," she said.
Planting 20 million trees in a single day may sound impossible, but lands minister Jinapor said Ghanaians should aim high, given the current health of the country's forests.