Pro-poor interventions are not getting to the poor in Ghana’s poorest region, the Upper West Region, and the poor are now surviving at the expense of the environment.
The Upper West Region, the youngest of the 10 regions of Ghana, was carved out of the former Upper Region in 1983 with the view to accelerating development since it is quite remote from Bolgatanga, the regional capital of the former Upper Region.
The main economic activity in the region is farming and hunting. Sections of the people also engage in vegetable farming especially around the dams. Most of the population lives in rural areas.
The Ghana Living Statistics Survey (GLSS) showed that 88 per cent of households in the region earned below the lower poverty line of 70 Ghana cedis.
Between 1999 and 2006, the incidence of poverty declined in all regions except the Upper West and Greater Accra regions. The highest poverty incidence increased from 84 per cent in 1999 to 88 percent in 2006.
The trend in poverty across regions showed spatial inequity across the regions of Ghana with Upper West, Upper East and Northern regions being the poorest.
Unemployment is also a major challenge. The Upper West Region recorded the highest percentage increase in unemployment between 1984 and 2000, from 0.4 per cent in 1984 to the current 15.0 per cent
Job creation has not kept pace with population growth, resulting in unemployment. This has led to migration of the citizens of the Upper West Region to other regions in search of alternative sources of livelihood.
With the failing of pro-poor interventions in addressing poverty among the poor, many of them in recent times have resorted to charcoal burning as an alternative to supplement their income.
If the popular saying that when the last tree dies, the last man also dies is anything to go by, then the entire population of Upper West Region is in trouble and heading towards a calamity.
The rate at which trees are being cut down to produce charcoal has the potential to deplete trees in 10 years’ time.
Upper West Region has become the central market for charcoal dealers across the entire Ghana and Burkina Faso.
The region has been identified to have hard trees suitable for charcoal production. Charcoal produced from these trees burns smoothly, with no sparks and also has a longer duration to burn out.
There is therefore huge patronage of charcoal produced in the region.
Sooner than later, people in Gwollu, the Sissala West District capital, will be sighting Burkina Faso due to massive destruction of trees for charcoal production.
No tree species is spared. The shea and dawadawa trees, which are the two most important economic trees in the north, have not been spared.
In the Sissala West West, especially Kuntulow and Jeffisi among others, one could see hundreds of bags of charcoal bags packed to be transported in long vehicles and other trucks to the south on weekly basis.
Charcoal dealers across Ghana are now sponsoring the business. Chainsaw machines are provided to the producers who spent days in the bush felling trees and producing charcoal in large quantities for the sponsors.
Traditional rulers are tight-lipped about the activities of these charcoal producers and the wanton destruction of the environment because poverty is devastating the communities and orders from the chiefs will not be obeyed.
The district assemblies cannot enforce environmental byelaws because some of their members are sponsors of the business.
Government, traditional rulers and other stakeholders in the districts must act now to address the menace, which has the potential of destabilizing the region.
Government structures must be more participatory, more accountable and more pro-poor. This approach needs a new role for the state to build on new partnerships with civil society and the private sector.
Poverty is allowed to take care of itself and people must find alternative means to survive no matter the consequences. Pro-poor growth is the key because economic growth does not necessarily translate into poverty reduction.
Even though growth generates more income, the poor are unlikely to receive fair share of this increased income if they are not empowered – first economically, but also, just as important, socially and politically.
But all too often, the funds, earmarked for the pro-poor programmes never arrive. The resources are not getting to the poor.
The control of the environment, ancestral lands and the natural resources those lands contain are key to Ghana’s progress. Conservation of the environment is often closely tied to protection of the livelihoods of the people. The people must not survive at the expense of the environment or to protect the environment at the expense of the poor.
But a general weakness of poverty programme in Ghana is the lack of integration. Part of the problem is that they are seen primarily as a set of targeted interventions – a series of small-scale project not integrated with national policies.
Another part of the problem is the artificial divide between economic and social policies. A third is the habit of thinking sectorally and organising government departments along sectoral lines. Poverty, a multi-sector problem does not fit neatly into any one department or ministry.
The problem is especially acute with respect to such issues as gender and the environment – two major areas of concentration for Ghana. The links between these two areas and poverty remain weak. Pro poor plans need to be comprehensive – much more than a few projects targeted at the poor.
“The eye says it has no room to keep strangers”. Whatever enters the eye must come out. This people will not see trees and allow income poverty to plague them and their families and government must act now to mobilise them and find alternative sources of employment for them to stop the felling of trees for charcoal production.