The Chief Executive Officer of the Forestry Commission, Mr Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie, has reckoned that despite some few payment challenges of the Youth in Afforestation Programme in recent times, the programme has been a main catalyst in reducing the country's unemployment problems.

He said so far, the commission has recruited about 65,000 youth under the programme, planting about 10 million seedlings of different species.

The figure, made up of 45% females includes 5,000 degree holders and 2,000 diploma holders, with the rest being WASSCE and BECE certificate holders.

Sir John as the CEO is fondly referred to, who made the revelation during a three-day tour of the Ashanti region to assess progress of the programme, said measures have been put in place to pay all arrears of beneficiaries to encourage commitment towards the programme.

It will be recalled that prior to last year's Christmas, angry members of the programme staged a chaotic demonstration at Achimota in Accra to back their demand for unpaid allowances.

But Sir John assured that was a thing of the past.

He said they could not continue work on empty stomach that was why every penny owed them will be paid.

He said arrangements were being finalised with the Finance Minister, Ken Ofori-Atta to get the arrears paid on time.

Sir John lauded the activeness and selfless effort put in by the beneficiaries and the commission for contributing to the country's bumper food harvest through the leasing of lands.

“To see the youth happily working under this weather shows that, we are really moving forward in this project”, he said.

Sir John encouraged the youth to work harder to protect the forests as they have done in the past as part of their contribution in greening the country through afforestation.
He also admonished them to see their work as service to the nation for which they will be remembered by posterity.

The former General Secretary of the ruling New Patriotic Party said although the programme has been successful so far, it was still challenged with some human activities which were a threat to the forest.

He said one of the key problems faced during the dry season was bushfires emanating from activities such as hunting and farmers deliberately setting fires to clear the land.

He urged those involved in such activities to cease forthwith in order to save the forest.

"The protection of the forest is a shared responsibility, therefore everybody must put in an effort to save it," he said.

The youth seized the opportunity to outline some of the challenges they face under the programme, and appealed to the commission to provide them with vehicles for their operations.

Also, they petitioned the CEO to extend the duration of the project beyond the current two years.