Indiscriminate bush burning seems to be an annual ritual in the Northern part of Ghana during the dry season although the practice is gradually becoming a nationwide problem.
The phenomenon needs to be curtailed by the authorities before it gets out of hand.
A survey conducted by the Ghana News Agency (GNA) in parts of the Central, Eastern, Brong Ahafo, Greater Accra, Ashanti and most communities in the Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions leaves much to be desired.
For instance the land stretching along the road from Kintampo through Techiman and Buipe in the Central Gonja District, all the way to Tamale Metropolis has been burnt to ashes.
The situation is also not different at Sege; a town between Ada and the Volta Region, where vast tract of land has been burnt.
Experts say this annual phenomenon does not only affect the environment and contributes to climate change but has adverse effect on human and animal health, social integration as well as the economic well-being of the people.
For example, economic trees such as sheanut and teak are burnt down in the process. This represents a loss of resources valuable in local communities.
The GNA gathered that bush burning has been principally carried out in an indiscriminate and haphazard manner by hunters. Others also burn the bush to drive away reptiles, whilst some use it as a farming tool in order to regenerate grazing land, or retain nutrients in the soil.
A source told the GNA that Fulani herdsmen burn the bush to facilitate the growing of new grasses which were used to feed their cattle.
Mr Ibrahim Atinga, a farmer at Buipe said uncontrolled bush burning had destroyed the farmlands of many farmers in the area, which he explained where their source of livelihood.
“Indiscriminate burning is affecting us and what is more painful is that these activities are done at night so before you get to the farm in the morning your crops have been burnt and you will not know who did it,” he said.
Mr Atinga said the people had complained to the traditional authorities a number of times to no avail as no measures had been put in place to stop such activities.
In response to the accusations of inaction Mr Issifu Salisu Be-Awuriba, District Chief Executive of Central Gonja District told the GNA that the assembly was aware of the indiscriminate bush burning in the area, but had not been able to locate the people or persons behind it.
“Information the assembly got was that it was the Fulani headsmen who do the burning. Other sources blamed the act on people contracted by the Volta River Authority (VRA) to clear weeds along electricity poles and installations.
On efforts by the assembly to halt such activities, Mr Be-Awuriba said, the assembly had set up a community- based committee, made up of opinion leaders, zonal officers of the National Disaster Management Organisation and leaders of women associations in the various communities to help arrest the culprits.
Mr Edmund Asem, Public Relations Officer of the Northern Regional Office of the VRA told the GNA that indiscriminate bush burning continued to hinder the operations of the organisation.
“It has been a ritual for VRA to replace the poles burnt through these activities and it adds extra cost to the operations of the company”, he said.
Hajia Mariama Alhassan, Dakpema Magajia (Women’s leader) of the Tamale Metropolis also told the GNA that most of the bush burning were done by some young men in the communities with the intention of hunting bush meat.
“They do this intentional. This issue is gradually becoming an annual ritual in the region,” she stressed.
On what the traditional authorities were doing to curb such activities, she said “as a traditional leader I have been complaining and advising the community members not to engage in such activities but they don’t mind.”
She however called on the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies to strengthen the bye -laws that prevented people from embarking on such activities and ensure that they were enforced strictly.
Hajia Magajia said those found culpable should be punished accordingly.
Mr Abu Iddrisu, Regional Manager of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Tamale said bush burning, no matter how it was caused was illegal.
“According to the EPA any form of abuse of the environment contravene Act 490.
“The Law disallows anybody from setting up fire in any kind of bush. The law actually mandate stakeholders like the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS), the EPA and the district Assemblies to collaborate and ensure its enforcement,” he said.
Mr Iddrisu noted that burning of bushes was a developmental problem, which had a lot of negative implication on the progress of the nation.
Such activities resulted in the destruction of vegetation, wildlife, aquatic life, breading sites, reduce the chemistry of the soil and causes soil erosion, it destroys the oxygen cycle, and reduces food crops.
According to, Mr Iddrisu, most species suffer reductions in populations during or immediately after a fire.
“Others may survive the fire, but die shortly afterwards due to predation by other species and/or through shortages of food.
“For instance many insects and spiders are also killed, especially in a high intensity fire that destroys the bark and litter layer in which they lived”, he said.
With regards to effect of bushfires on soil, he said it had biological, chemical and physical effects on soils. “The extents of these effects are dependent on the fire's intensity and the resulting temperature of the soil. Generally, only the top few centimetres are affected as they are subjected to the highest temperatures.
“It causes biological effects such as sterilisation (or death of living tissue) within the soil. Higher soil temperatures (greater than 100ºC) may alter soil chemical structure, changing the amounts and availability of nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and ammonia.”
“These soil changes, combined with ash from the fire, may cause an ash-bed effect, increasing the fertility of the soil. However, these nutrients are relatively soluble, and may be rapidly washed from the site by rain,” he said.
These nutrients combined with the soil and ash -more readily weathered after burning - then find their way into streams where both water chemistry and turbidity (light blocked by suspended sediment) may be changed substantially. This in turn impacts on aquatic ecosystems.
On the economy there was enough evidence to show that indiscriminate burning of bush contributed to the reduction of the Growth Domestic Product by 1.5 per cent in 2009.
Food production in the Northern Region was found to have dropped because once the vegetation on the land was burnt, the micro-organisms that make up the soil ecosystem were also damaged, rendering the soil less fertile immediately after the fire, and reducing crop yields for that year.
Mr Iddrisu also indicated that bush burning could affect the livelihood of people and had brought about extreme poverty and migration.
“This is because when people’s farms are burnt they move to the southern part to look for other source of livelihood”. In addition, aerosols from bush fires may affect the health of locals subjected to the smoke and cause respiratory problems.
Mr Iddrisu noted that bush burning which contributed to climate change virtually led to the rise of diseases including malaria and cerebral spinal meningitis.
He said the EPA in collaboration with the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives had set up an Environmental Management Committees to educate and ensure that people who set the bush on fire were brought to book.
Mr Iddrisu said about nine people were apprehended during a joint operation between the Ghana Police Service and EPA and would be prosecuted soon.
He said as part of their field inspection about 25 bicycles and one motor bicycle had been confiscated from people who were indulged in such activities.
On what EPA was doing to support the National Afforestation Project, Mr Iddrisu mentioned that his outfit often distributed seedlings to schools to be planted on their compound.
He called on government to review the regulation on bush burning and make it more proactive and ensuring that offenders were punished to serve as a deterrent to others.
Mr Iddrisu said there was the need for government to train police prosecutors on environmental law to be able to defend environmental issues.
“This will help government prosecutors be more conversant and be able to present environmental cases well in court.
“Again we need a stronger and effective collaboration with other stakeholders including the districts, the GNFS, EPA and the Police to be able to stop the canker.”
Mr Gabriel Nii Otu Ankrah, Public Relations Officer of the Tamale Teaching hospital confirmed that malaria was the highest among the out-patient departments’ top cases; top 10 admissions and top 10 deaths and top 10 causes.
He said in 2008 and 2009 the hospital recorded about 1, 6603 and 17615, an increase of 1012.
“This is really disturbing because government and other stakeholders continue to inject resources in fighting the disease.”
It is obvious that two things come to play in thwarting efforts to protect the country’s ecology. The laws in combating bush burning is not stringent enough to deter people.
In addition, institutions and stakeholders responsible for the implementation of these legislations were either under resourced or weak.
It is very sad that our country- the star of Africa is not acting responsibly to protect the environment, which we all depend on for our daily bread.
Let us not forget that when the last tree dies, the last man dies.
Albert Oppong Ansah