THE Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources last Saturday began an operation to recover 75sq km of the Desire Forest Reserve which has allegedly been sold by chiefs to private individuals for farming activities.
The operation came just three days after President J.E.A. Mills had launched the national forest plantation programme at Abofuor in the Ashanti Region and tasked the Forestry Commission to make all efforts to protect gazetted forest reserves from encroachment.
Led by the sector Minister, Alhaji Collins Dauda, a team made up of military men, policemen and officials of the Forestry Commission destroyed large cocoa plantations established by some farmers in the degraded portions of the Desire Forest Reserve.
Surprisingly, some of the affected farmers had managed to secure leases on the land from the Lands Commission.
The forest, which spans the Ashanti and Brong Ahafo regions, covers 150sq km but about 50 per cent of its degraded portions has allegedly been sold to individuals for farming activities, mainly cocoa cultivation.
Commenting on the exercise, Alhaji Dauda said no chief had the power to sell land in forest reserves, whether the land was degraded or not.
Expressing concern over the alarming rate at which some chiefs had illegally sold portions of the Desiri Forest Reserve, the minister stated that forest reserves were legally under the bona fide control of the government, who had the sole power to decide how to use them in the interest of the country.
Alhaji Dauda, therefore, cautioned prospective developers to be wary of their dealings with chiefs in the acquisition of land in order not to waste their money.
He said there was too much indiscipline in the forestry sector, resulting in the country’s forest cover dwindling at a fast rate.
“I am not going to be an armchair minister and see the rot continue,” he said, and vowed to bring some sanity into the system to ensure that the country derived the best from its forests.
He stated categorically that no illegal farmer would be spared his or her farm, stressing, “We shall continue with the exercise until all illegal farms in the forest are destroyed.”
The minister explained that after cutting down all illegal cocoa trees, the FC would place permanent gangs in the reserve to replant the forest with economic trees.
He was surprised that people could buy the lands from chiefs, knowing very well that the forest reserve was under the control of the government.
According to him, forest officials had earlier cautioned the farmers against farming in the reserve but they claimed they bought the lands from chiefs who claimed ownership of the lands.
The minister also cautioned that any official under his ministry who connived with chiefs to sell lands in forest reserves would not be spared.
Alhaji Dauda indicated that the exercise would not be limited to the Desiri Forest but it would be extended to forest reserves where there had been encroachment.