Ghana's widespread illegal mining activities are destroying the gold-rich West African country's forests, the government's forestry agency warned Tuesday at a news conference in Accra.
Ghana and South Africa are vying to be Africa's top gold producers. The mining industry in Ghana involves both large global players but also artisanal mining activities, many of which are illegal.
Since taking office in 2017, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo has promised to rid the country of "galamsey," the name given by locals to these illegal mines where deadly accidents frequently occur.
"Of the 16 regions of Ghana, seven have been affected by illegal mining activities," said the head of the Ghana Forestry Commission, John Allotey.
In addition, "34 out of 288 (forest) reserves have been affected," he said, and the total area destroyed is estimated at 4,726 hectares (larger than cities like Athens or Brussels).
Illegal mining activities not only reduce the size of forests, but also pollute rivers and create deep holes that are then difficult to rehabilitate, he added.
Authorities regularly launch operations against illegal sites, including removing excavators, but the practice continues.
"We want to intensify surveillance, use the military to conduct operations in sensitive areas and find additional funding," Allotey said.
Ghana has "revised laws, put in place measures and systems to ensure that our forests are well protected, but despite this, our forests continue to be destroyed," Ghanaian environmentalist Nehemiah Odjer-Bio of Friends of the Earth told AFP.
According to him, insufficient law enforcement, corruption and unemployment fuel deforestation activities, while "Ghana has a tropical forest rich in biodiversity, with different species of trees and animals that all perform important functions for the country and the world.
In addition to illegal mining, the main driver of deforestation in Ghana is the expansion of agricultural areas, but also illegal logging, forest fires, overgrazing and infrastructure development.