Clearing tree stumps will soon make way for accident-free journeys on the Volta Lake

The seven-kilometre road from Akosombo to Sedorm is largely dirt track, but in fairly good condition. The road winds through lush tropical vegetation to open onto a breathtaking view of the Volta Lake, as you approach the lightly inhabited fishing village of Sedorm, where livelihoods are about to change.

Canadian firm, Clarke Sustainable Resource (CSR) Developments has been granted a 25-year concession to harvest about 350,000 hectares of submerged timber in the Volta Lake. The company has begun clearing a track of land in Sedorm for the construction of a wood milling and processing factory. CSR Developments estimates that when fully operational, the logging and processing project will directly employ 400 people and bring in more than US$100 million in foreign exchange earnings to Ghana each year.

"The great news is that the underwater logging system will be ready to start actual harvesting of timber from the lake by the end of March," said Tom Avery, manager, Forest Management Group of CSR Developments. Since the creation of the Volta Lake, one of the world's largest man-made lakes in 1964, it has remained a major water transport system, linking the country's relatively more developed south to its largely subsistence agrarian north. But submerged tree stumps have, over the years, posed a serious threat to transportation on the lake as several fatal boat disasters have been recorded.

"Our main preoccupation is to harvest the submerged timber and process them into lumber," said Reverend Robert Johnson, communications director at CSR Development. He added that by removing the submerged trees from the shallow parts of the 8,515 square kilometre deep lake, transportation routes on the lake would expand thereby creating new economic development in the region. Actually, the Volta Lake timber project comes with another positive side to it, apart from improving water transport safety.

The lake is an important source of fish and for communities dotted along its bank, fishing comes as natural means of livelihood. According to a survey carried out in 2000 by the Directorate of Fisheries of the Ministry of Agriculture, the number of villages along the bank of the lake number 1, 232 and as many as 71, 861 fishermen make a living on the lake. It is also estimated that there are more than 100 species of fish in the lake, 16 of which, mostly tilapia species, are commercially processed and marketed. Of the total inland fish production for 2002 of 88,000 tonnes, the Volta Lake contributed 85% and accounted for 16% of the national fish output for that year.


CSR's mandate is to harvest the submerged timber in the Volta Lake and process them into lumber


Water transportation expected to take a new turn after the clearing of the tree stumps.

While some public commentators have touted the Volta Lake timber project as transformational, others have launched strong criticisms against it. When the project was first announced in 2006, some local newspapers claimed it was a cover up for extensive mining of diamonds and other minerals suspected to abound in the Voltarian basin, the track of land bordering the Volta Lake.

A non-governmental organisation, Commanding Heights, claimed that the project would endanger women and children. These are considered most vulnerable because in the event of rain storms on the lake, they cannot seek refuge around the tree stumps but depend on help from fishermen. Beside the criticisms, there are also environmental concerns as the operations of CSR Development could threaten aquatic life.  

Already, fisher folks along the banks of the lake are complaining about dwindling fish stocks. Total fish landings declined from 36,000 tonnes in 1971 to 28,373 tonnes in 1998, with annual decline in catch per unit effort estimated at 0.255 kg/boat/day.

"We are in constant touch with the Environmental Protection Agency and other research institutions, and should our activities have a negative impact on fish breeding patterns and fish stocks in the lake, we would immediately vary our methods to ensure the fishing industry is not jeopardised," Reverend Johnson said.

"We are very interested in the environmental implications of this project. We are leaving nothing to chance to ensure our operations meet the highest global standards while also looking to see how through it we can add to sustainable development," he added. The project's research and development manager, Peter Milne, said every caution had been taken to prevent any fluid leakages and if they did occur, they would be contained within the barge, while the fuel depot is also secured against seepage of fuels into the soil and lake.

"Because we want to operate in an environmentally friendly manner, we will use biodegradable oil to ensure safety of the lake," Milne said.

CSR Developments believes the project will be of tremendous benefit to both the country and investors and Ghanaian officials are equally upbeat about it. Apart from the fact that the project will significantly reduce fatal boat accidents and improve the water transportation system, the cost of bulk haulage is expected to reduce by half and the project also has the potential to halt deforestation.

The head of climate change at the Forestry Commission, Robert Bamfo, said logging of rot-resistant hardwoods such as Ebony, Wawa, and Odum will reduce pressure on Ghana's forests, which are depleting at a rate of about 1.9% a year. The country's natural forest, while a renewable resource, has been overexploited, with currently just about 15% remaining due to inadequate reforestation programmes.

With firm government backing and the deployment of what the project managers say is state-of-the-art technology, it remains to be seen how the process of harvesting the tree stumps will unleash the full transforming power of the Volta Lake.


Barge being assembled at VRA Dry-dock, Akosombo