The National Forest Forum 2013, opened on Tuesday with a call on Ghanaians to contribute to preserve forests for the benefit of present and future generation.

Mr Musa Abu-Juam, Technical Director at the Ministry of Lands and Forestry, who represented the Minister said: ?The continued loss of our forests is of great concern to government especially at a period when we are all battling the effect of climate change.?

He mentioned illegal activities such as galamsey (illegal mining) and chainsaw operations, encroachment by farmers on forest reserves as activities that continue to threaten the sustainability of forest resources.

The National Forest Forum, organised by Civic Response, a non-governmental organisation seeks to facilitate dialogue to link the concerns of communities to forest sector policy reforms and implementation.

The forum held annually also seeks to enhance collaboration among the various stakeholders of the forest sector.

Mr Abu-Juam acknowledged that the forum help connect policy formulation and implementation to those closest to the resource (forest) especially communities.

?As you may be aware, several millions of Ghanaians depend on the forest and wildlife resources directly or indirectly for their livelihoods and the sector also contributes significantly to the Gross Domestic Product.?

He said a number of initiatives have been undertaken by government  to help preserve the forest among them- the National Plantation Development Programme, which has already planted thousands of hectares of forest in both reserves and off-reserve areas across the country.

Mr Abu-Juam said the National Plantation Development Programme had been largely achieved through collaboration with the private sector and communities.

He also mentioned the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) between Ghana and the European Union which mandates Ghana to export only legally produced timber to the European market.

The Forestry Commission through the support of the Attorney-General Department, he said had trained about 30 staff of the Commission as prosecutors of forest offenses to help handle forest offenses better in court than in the past.

Mr Abu-Juam expressed the Ministry?s commitment to ensure that the timber permits system is sanitised to ensure transparency in the allocation process.

The Technical Director at the Ministry also talked about Forest Investment Programme and advised participants to show committed interest in the programme and track the progress.

Participants at the forum selected from seven regions would be updated on the status of the various forestry sector programmes including the VPA, the Forestry Development Master Plan and the Consolidation of existing forestry laws, the REDD+ implementation in Ghana among other issues.

The participants have at an earlier forum raised concerns with issues on the accountability in the use of royalties, chainsaw operations, difficulties in getting access to legal lumber in fringe communities, valuation and compensation for destroyed crops, allocation of timber exploitation permits, limited national policy and legislation in charcoal production and mining activities.

Source: GNA

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