In the thick of the night, Awudu logs rosewood in the forest reserves of Busunu, a town in the Savannah Region of Ghana. The logging and export of rosewood are banned in Ghana, so Awudu carries out this operation at night to escape possible arrest and prosecution.
He admits that rosewood harvesting and export are not in the best interests of the country, but insists that loggers’ hands are tied as they have no other source of income.
Behind Awudu is a local factory for processing rosewood. Rosewood logs are packed on the factory’s floor. The widely-held perception is that the factory is not functioning anymore due to the ban, but Awudu’s statement suggests that the illegal activity is still going on.
The first ban on rosewood came into force in 2012 but there have since been five intermittent bans between 2012 and 2021 due to persistent illegal logging, trade and export of the specie.
Most of these bans have been short, lasting between one to four months, except the 2019 ban which has been the longest. Some have suggested the bans could be a smokescreen, following the arrest and deportation of Helena Huang, a Chinese national who faced no charges in Ghana for smuggling rosewood.
The Member of Parliament for Builsa South, Clement Apaak, who has been vociferous on rosewood smuggling, believes the government’s failure to prosecute persons involved in the illegality forms part of its plan to cover up corruption and complicity.
“The lack of prosecution is largely because many of those involved in the trade have deep pockets or are well connected to the political class and because of the culture of silence, there are many who will not speak about the smuggling,” he alleges.
The Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources disagrees. The Public Relations Officer of the Ministry, Abraham Otabil, says stringent measures have been devised to end the exploitation of rosewood in Ghana.
He says containers of rosewood were impounded in “just a few situations”, following the introduction of the new measures.
“Those were isolated cases we recorded and you will agree with me that there are some miscreants in the system and that is why the ban was issued. However, we have to tighten our system at the Forestry Commission,” Otabil says.
Ghana’s loss or importers’ gain?
Investigations have shown how gross under-invoicing is practiced during the export of rosewood from Ghana to China. According to a Washington- based non-governmental organization, Environmental Investigation Agency’s (EIA) 2019 report, over half of the total amount of rosewood exported to China between 2010 and 2018 cannot be traced in the books of Ghana.
The EIA’s report said since 2012, over 540,000 tons of rosewood – the equivalent of 23,478 twenty-foot containers or approximately six million trees – were illegally harvested and sent to China alone while a ban was in place.
Citing Chinese Customs data based on the Global Trade Atlas (GTA), the report said in the space of eight years (2010 and 2018), Ghana recorded 506,199 cubic meters of Rosewood export yet Chinese records show that the country imported 953,827 cubic metres from Ghana, leaving some 447,628 cubic metres unaccounted for.
The Executive Director of the non-governmental organisation, Jaksally Development Organisation, Jeremiah Seidu, who was part of the committee set up to probe the EIA’s claims, says their investigations in a specific community had shown that 100 containers of rosewood were being harvested continuously each week for illegal exports for a year. Going by his estimates, Ghana could be losing approximately US$47 million a week to rosewood smuggling, given that the EIA’s report estimates a ton of rosewood at US$17,000.
In some cases, the in-demand hardy deciduous tree is disguised as other items to avoid suspicion from authorities. In one case, some smugglers hid rosewood in containers of charcoal that were being transported from Kumasi, a town in the Ashanti Region of Ghana, to the Greater Accra Region in 2021.
Officials of the Forestry Commission were subsequently implicated in this case. Mr. Otabil said officials of the commission involved in the smuggling will be sanctioned.
“If Forestry Commission officials are complicit in these issues, the law will deal with them accordingly. That is what we stand for.”
While Mr. Apaak has emphasised the need for prosecution of persons involved, the Deputy National Director of Arocha Ghana, Daryl Bosu, believes the problem will be resolved if the Forestry Commission is more vigilant.
“Officials of the Forestry Commission have a role to play. All timber that leaves the country is verified by the Forestry Commission. They have officers at the port who ensure that the right thing is done. For rosewood, you need certain trade permits and this cannot happen without the involvement of the Forestry Commission, so they definitely have a big role to play.”
Note: The aggregated US$47 million a week figure that Ghana is estimated to be losing every week is calculated from the EIA statistics indicating that 100 containers carrying 28 tonnes of Rosewood valued at US$17,000 a tonne are smuggled from the West African country.
This story was produced by Citinewsroom.com. It was written as part of Wealth of Nations, a media skills development programme run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. More information at www.wealth-of-nations.org. The content is the sole responsibility of the author and the publisher.