Acca — The future of the wood carving industry in Ghana looks bleak as a result of unbridled deforestation.
The most sought after traditional tree species like Ossese, Ebony, Danta and Kusia, which are used as raw materials are said to be rare and locally extinct because they are virtually depleted in Ghana's natural forests.
This is threatening the well-being of wood carvers who depend on the supply of these species for their livelihoods.
These came to light on Wednesday at the inception workshop on Alternative Carving Wood for Sustainable Livelihood (ACWSL) held at the Aburi Industrial Centre (AIC) in the Eastern Region. It was organized by the West Africa Regional Programme Office (WARPO) of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
The AIC is the largest of four wood carving centres in Ghana, housing an estimated 1,300 of the nation's 3,500 carvers. Kumasi 1,200, Accra 550 and Takoradi 450 follow in that order.
Wood carving is considered a very important part of the handicraft industry in Ghana. In 2004, handicraft exports were in excess of $2.3 million. This shot up significantly to $18.9 million the following year though Ghanaian carvings struggled to compete in quality with those from Eastern Africa, notably Kenya.
There is, however, apprehension over the sustainability of export levels because of the fast pace at which traditional tree species are being depleted in Ghana's forests.
To arrest the situation, WWF-WARPO is embarking on the ACWSL project with funding from the French Embassy. The project is aimed at identifying and developing suitable and sustainable alternative carving wood sources by facilitating a shift from the use of the fast diminishing but preferred species to suitable fast growing species such as neem tree.
It is expected that the project will lead to the sensitization of stakeholders in the carving industry about alternative wood sources and the benefits accruing from such options and subsequent adoption of farm forestry for neem trees by land owners.
In addition, the capacity of wood carvers and marketers will be enhanced through training and demonstration of best practices; business plans for wood carving cooperative groups will be developed and implemented; and global market linkages will be pursued to enhance capacity to access the global wood market.
Mr. Abraham Baffoe, WARPO Forest Programme Leader, in an address enumerated several on-going forest projects in the West African sub-region. One of them is the ACWSL project which is being pursued "to ensure that resource needs for the industry are within sustainable limits."
He also mentioned the Global Forest & Trade Network project which is to improve forest management and eliminate illegal logging using certification in Ghana. Mr. Baffoe described illegal logging as "a threat to the sustainability of forest resources."
Similarly, Mr. Mustapha Seidu, Assistant Forest Officer, WWF-WARPO pointed out the dangers of forest depletion, noting, "Currently, deforestation in Ghana is estimated at 65,000 hectares per year."
This, he noted, calls for action because "the species are almost getting finished and the carvers will tell you that."
Besides, consumers of carved wood products are becoming increasingly concerned about the source of the raw material and will only buy carved products that originate from sustainably managed or certified forests.
This is an indication that buyers are becoming more and more environmentally sensitive to the impact of the wood carving industry on the natural forests.
Thus, Mr. Seidu has no qualms that "Supporting the wood carving industry to ensure reliable sources of raw materials, improve skills, and better access to the global market will help to save the forest, guarantee the livelihood of wood carvers and therefore alleviate their poverty."
This will put to rest apprehensions that the livelihood of wood carvers could be jeopardized if buyers begin to boycott products that cannot be proved to originate from raw materials derived from certified sustainably managed sources.
According to Mr. Emmanuel Abbey, President of AIC, the centre was founded in 1989 by citizens of Aburi as a means of livelihood. Since then, many non-governmental organisations have approached the centre with promises to help members address challenges but these promises have often remained "mere rhetoric."
He therefore urged the WWF-WARPO to keep to its promises to ensure the realization of the objectives of the ACWSL.