The national director of a Ghanaian environmental organisation has stepped up calls to make one of the country’s last virgin rainforests a national park rather than have it impacted by bauxite mining plans, writes Yaa Frempomaa.
Speaking during an AKADi Magazine Instagram Live in February 2021, A Rocha Ghana’s National Director Dr Seth Appiah-Kubi, said A Rocha Ghana and stakeholders agreed, during a two-day conference, that the best use of Atewa Forest was to make it a national park and develop a tourism infrastructure. He reiterated the call earlier this week (20 January 2022).
Atewa Forest is situated about 95km from Accra in Ghana’s Eastern Region and has been earmarked since 2017 for mining. The agreement follows a deal between the Ghana government and Sinohydro, a Chinese state-run hydropower engineering and construction firm.
The Memorandum of Understanding allows the Chinese government to develop a bauxite industry in Ghana with Atewa Forest as one of the sources of bauxite in exchange for financing infrastructure projects (read more here.)
Forest under threat
But bauxite mining will destroy the Forest, Dr Appiah-Kubi told listeners during the Instagram Live interview. "Bauxite mining is strip mining which means taking off the trees and the soil itself and so there will be no forest. This will affect the habitats that depend on the forest and the hydrological system as well."
In 2019/2020, 11 plaintiffs comprising environmentalists, climate change activists, individuals and civil society organisations sued Ghana government to stop mining plans, (read more here).
The case has, however, been adjourned to 10 February 2022, Dr Appiah-Kubi said. The adjournment is to enable the State to file its defence, according to the Ghana News Agency (read more here).
As well as bauxite mining, the Forest is under threat from unauthorised hunting for bush meat in the forest, illegal logging, timber harvesting, farm encroachment, Dr Appiah-Kubi said.
Atewa Forest is an intact rain forest that represents a third of the Eastern Region’s remaining forest and 5% of the Upper Guinean Forest in West Africa, Dr Appiah-Kubi told Instagram Live viewers.
In 2010, Ghana had 7 million hectares of natural forest. By 2020, the country had lost 136,000 hectares of natural forest - the equivalent of 82.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, according to Global Forest Watch.
The Forest is among the 34 world's most important biodiversity hotspots and holds some of the most unique and endangered plant, bird, mammal, and insect species in Africa and the world.
77% of Ghana’s butterfly species are found in Atewa Forest, Dr Appiah-Kubi said.
“Atewa is unique, it so difficult to find one single place where there are so many things congregating at the same time in this one single place in terms of its biodiversity, hydrology and climate support," Dr Appiah-Kubi said.
“Atewa has about 573 confirmed butterflies with an estimated 711 yet to be confirmed by scientists," he said. "One of them is the Swallowtail butterfly, which has a wing span of between 18cm to 23cm – making it the largest butterfly in Africa and among the largest in the world.
“Species endemic to Atewa Forest include Afia Birago frog and butterfly species such as the Atewa Dotted Border butterfly, Anthene helpsi and Acraea kibi.”
The White-naped Mangabey, the Togo Slippery frog and Afia Birago Puddle frog are among the species endemic in the Forest that are considered endangered or critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list.
Ghana depends on Atewa Forest, as part of the country’s contribution to the global climate accord, Dr Appiah-Kubi, and its unique micro climate (frequent rainfall) makes it a good place for food production.
Atewa Forest is also key in the provision of cleaner air and carbon storage. “As the Amazon Forest is the lungs of the world, so is Atewa the greater part of the lungs of Ghana”, Dr Appiah-Kubi said.
The Forest stores close to three million tonnes of carbon a year, he added, and through this, there is an opportunity for the government to venture into carbon bond sales. “This is more lucrative in the long run than bauxite mining,” he said.
According to Dr Appiah-Kubi, the government could sell carbon that Atewa generates by involving institutions such as international banks that have expertise in the trade.
The water sources that run through Atewa Forest play a vital role in supporting over five million people in Ghana.
"Ghana has 16 big rivers - among them are the Brim, Ayensu and Densu which take their water sources from Atewa in addition to over 99 tributaries," said Dr Appiah-Kubi.
"The Ayensu River supplies water to the communities of Eastern and Central Regions. The Brim River supplies water to communities in the Eastern and Western Regions, part of Central Region and the Densu River supplies water to communities in the Eastern and Western Regions and part of Greater Accra."
Want to know more? Watch the whole interview on AKADi Magazine's IGTV here.
If you would like to support A Rocha Ghana, here are five ways:
3. Send a letter to the President of Ghana - find out how to do so here.
4. A Rocha Ghana is petitioning the President of Ghana to turn Atewa into a national park. You can sign the petition here.