"Acheampong" weed is killing Ghana

By CHRISTIAN AGUBRETU
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By CHRISTIAN AGUBRETU

10/11/2002 -

Perhaps one of the greatest threats to the ecosystem and agriculture is the "Acheampong" weed known botanically as Chromolaena Odorata. It has added fuel to the annual ritual of bushfires this country has been experiencing for years. The bushfires of yester years before the weed invaded this country were not as sweeping and devastating as when the notorious weed found its abode in Ghana. It changed the "vegetation". The Name Acheampong Ghana News Agency investigations in the Krobo areas of the Eastern Region revealed that the weed was named Acheampong because to them when General Kutu Acheampong, Chairman of the Supreme Military Council, ordered that the forest reserve in that area should be released for farming purposes, during the "Operation Feed Yourself" the weed sprang up after the original forest was cleared. Origin of Acheampong Botanists trace the origin of the Acheampong weed to the Volta River Authority (VRA), which imported it into the country. It was allegedly planted under the power lines for easy clearing. The weed, which must have been tender in perhaps a temperate region, grew tough and robust in the tropical region of Ghana. Notwithstanding, wherever the weed might have come from the fact remains that it was unknown in Ghana before the 70s. When the Acheampong weed invaded the country in the 70s it spread so fast and gained notoriety for destroying large tracts of land and contributed in no small way to the 1982 and 1983 bushfires that brought this country to her knees. The bushfires led to severe famine, which an octogenarian said had not been seen in the country during his lifetime. Come to think of the "Rawlings Chain" that hung on the necks of Ghanaians and one would appreciate the seriousness of matter under discussion. Invariably, if that famine were any monument many a Ghanaian would turn their faces away from it. Professor Dominic Fobih, Minister of Environment and Science at the opening of a recent workshop on "Invasive Alien Species in Africa" said: "The effect of the notorious Chromolaena Odorata nicknamed 'Acheampong' is very vivid on our minds. "Soon after its introduction into the country in the early 1970s 'Acheampong' spread rapidly, colonising and voraciously eliminating established plant communities in all the agro-ecological zones. We are also very much aware of how 'Acheampong' by virtue of its nature, served as the fuel for the bushfires that devastated most parts of the country in 1983." Acheampong and Bush Fires The recognition of the danger is not enough since Acheampong continues to be a major contributor to the annual devastating bushfires. It is highly combustible. Its woollen flowers are highly inflammable and easily blown by the wind. Its semi-dried stem is another fuel in itself. It is a creeping and sprawling plant and engulfs and encompasses other tree species either tall or short and when fire gets into it burns and kills the trees especially in the forest zones that are not fire resistant like those of the savannah areas. Trees that die after bushfires eventually dry up and become combustible material during the next dry season and so the cycle continues unabated. It has observed that before the advent of the Acheampong weed the country had for years witnessed annual bushfires but ever since the weed invaded the country the extent and intensity of bush had become more destructive than hitherto. Painfully, the weed has invaded the banks of streams, rivers and other water bodies and covered, mountains, cocoa farms and even virgin forests. Forests that never experienced bushfires in the past are now susceptible to the menace by courtesy of Acheampong weed. The weed forms a thicket canopy and provides a sanctuary for animals from being poached. But when it burns it burns, so thoroughly that the animals have no place of abode leading to their massive destruction by farmers and hunters after the bush was burnt. The weed is now found in the Ashanti, Brong Ahafo, Volta and Eastern Regions and it is now matching militantly to the Northern Regions to destroy the savannah and the fire resistant shea trees and other species there. Some farmers claim that maize does well in the areas that the weed is found. Is it a question of every dark cloud having its silver lining? Of what use would it be if after providing nutrients for the maize to flourish, Acheampong weeds become fodder to burn large tracts of maize farms and whole barns. For the maize and other crops to do well the farmer has to dig the roots of the weed thoroughly at a great cost of labour because he could be assured of good harvest. Acheampong inhibits cultivation of staples Acheampong does not allow major staples like cocoyam, plantain and sometimes cassava, to do well on lands previously cropped with maize. The weed would colonise the old farm at alarming growth rate thus killing the crops. The observation of Professor Fobih that "one issue which has attracted sufficient attention was the threat posed to our ecosystems by the transportation of invasive alien plant species to new regions", should not be brushed aside. He said: "The concern is not just the introduction of alien species but rather the effects these introductions tend to have on our ecosystems and biological diversity." He thus urged the participants to consider the issue of invasive alien species very critically, considering the challenges it poses to our socio-economic development. It would not be far fetched to say that Acheampong weed is laying siege to this country and that if it were an invading army, the armed forces would have been mobilised to fight and repulse the attack. If it were an epidemic nurses and the doctors would be at hand. If it were disaster or political upheaval, the media would have been doing their own thing endlessly. The country is faced with imminent catastrophe and perhaps it was this realisation that informed the Ministry of Environment and Science to see the need to organise a workshop in September and to sound the alarum bells. The media should pick the refrain: "Acheampong weed is a threat to the environment and agriculture."

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