Campaign On Making Atiwa Forest A National Park Intensifies
With the debate on the $2billion Government of Ghana and China Sinohydro barter agreement raging on with focus on Ghana’s bauxite deposit at the center of the discussion, groups, organisations and institutions that are against the mining of bauxite in the Atewa Forest have also intensified their campaign for government to turn the forest into a national park.
The latest person to add his voice to the campaign is Professor Emmanuel Danquah of the faculty of Renewable Natural Resources at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST).
According to him Ghana stand the risk of a long term disadvantage if it proceed to mine Bauxite in the Atiwa Forest.
Professor Danquah was speaking at the maiden National conference on Environment organized by the Faculty of Development Studies of the Presbyterian University College, on the theme “Environmental Management and Livelihood Nexus Towards the Attainment Of The Sustainable Development Goals” at Akropong-Akuapem in the Eastern Region.
He indicated that, though the country will make some profits in the process of mining, it is also imperative to know that the Atiwa Forest is an important water shelter for most of the river bodies in the country.
He reiterated that mining in the Atiwa Forest is dicey, saying “I think in a long term, we stand a risk of losing our natural resources”.
“For me personally, I am against the decision to mine in Atiwa Forest and if I have my way, I would have stopped the process”, he said.
He indicated that although government would engage technical experts to enhance a sustainable mining in the forest, it is doubtful the environment could not be destroyed after the mining.
For his part, the Dean of Faculty of Development Studies at the Presbyterian University College, Dr. Edward Wiafe indicated that natural resources can be tapped to assist in the development of the country but on condition of sustainability putting into consideration the merits of both present and future generation.
“As much as government decision to mine in the Atiwa Forest is in the interest of the state, it must also not jeopardize the environment and the future of the country.” He said.
The current intensified campaign on the upgrade of the Atiwa Forest follows a similar campaign started by the okyeman traditional council as far back as 2012. The Okyehene Amoatia Ofori Panin speaking at the first council meeting of the Okyeman Traditional Council of the year 2012 in February 2012 called for the “upgrade of the Atewa Mountain protection status from forest reserve to a National Park.”
The Okyeman council under the leadership of Osagyefuo Amoatia Ofori Panin and his team of experts stated the benefits of a national park out of the Atewa range forest in a press release from the then Akyem Abuakwa State Council Secretary E. Ampofo Duodu in 2012 that:
“A team of local and international scientists who have conducted a series of research in the Atewa forest have confirmed that Atewa harbours one of the healthiest and most important ecological systems in the world, with the headwaters of three important rivers in the country; Densu, Birim and Ayensu, which are essential sources of domestic, agricultural and industrial water for local communities and many of Ghana's major population centres, including the capital city, Accra.
The Atewa forest, thus, protects and provides clean water sources for much of Ghana’s human population and key elements of the country’s biodiversity. Similarly, through the process of photosynthesis, it provides the essential environmental service of continuously recycling atmospheric carbon dioxide into oxygen. That is, the Atewa forest is one of the ecosystems that produces and cleans the air Ghanaians breathe. This makes Atewa the right lung of the entire nation. Atewa is also a major source of both traditional and modern medicines.
The exclusive biological resources or ecological benefits of the Atewa forest reserve used to be threatened by illegal logging, hunting and farming activities. The major threat today is the exploitation of bauxite deposits, which could have eternal damaging effects. For about ten to fifty years, at most, the benefits to the economy from a successful bauxite operation may include foreign exchange earnings, easing of unemployment, and stimulation of local economy. Unfortunately, there is a substantial trade-off between these immediate economic gains and the ecological balance of the nation. In other words, when the Atewa forest bauxite is mined, the permanent impact on the physical environment and, for that matter, the national ecological balance may be incalculable; and the reasons are not far-fetched.
Bauxite is mainly extracted by open-cast mining, which involves clearing of vegetation and the removal of the top layer of soil in order to get at the ores underneath. This has the potential of destroying: hundreds of thousands of hectares of magnificent bio-diverse forests; habitats of exotic animals and plants; natural waterfalls and headwaters of the three river systems. In addition, as soon as the bauxite ores are mined, the land will become so caustic and completely dried out to the point that it can hardly support living things and agriculture. Besides, bauxite mining leaves behind another by product toxic (known as red dust particulate) in the air, which can have serious negative impacts on public health. What makes the remote decision to mine depressing is the fact that the bauxite identified at Atewa is classified as low grade.
It is in the light of these realities that Okyeman is advocating for the upgrade of the Atewa Mountain protection status from forest reserve to a National Park. Besides protecting the nation’s ecological balance and the incredible biodiversity of Atewa for future generations, upgrading the status of Atewa to National Park will play a part in developing alternative income generation opportunities for the country and the communities surrounding the Atewa forest.
National parks serve as major attractions in eco-tourism or nature-based tourism. Thus, eco-tourism would be the most optimal industry to be developed because of Atewa's beauty, richness in species and close proximity to the capital city. Visitation, tourism, and jobs related to recreation could contribute billions of cedis to national and local economies, while creating thousands of private sector jobs. The economic benefits extend far beyond tourism. In today’s economy, the greatest value of natural amenities and recreation opportunities often lies in the land’s ability to attract and retain people, entrepreneurs, their businesses, and the growing number of retirees who may locate to Atewa environs for quality of life reasons.
The results clearly indicate that tourism can generate considerable benefits for the local development in the structurally weak rural periphery. Specific National Park economic benefits include recreation visits, Park visitors’ expenditure, visitors staying outside the park in motels, hotels, bed and breakfasts guest houses as well as local transportation and retail purchases. Parks also impact the local and national economies through direct employment opportunities that offer wages, salaries and other payroll benefits.
Nananom also considered payments for ecosystem services or carbon credits, concluding that the economic values of the services provided by Atewa could be calculated and payments for these services made to the communities as a mechanism to protect the forest and watershed.
The Traditional Council is therefore optimistic that with careful planning and in collaboration with government, a National Park and an analogous management plan, compatible with both conservation and revenue generation goals, will be developed.”
Position of Forestry Commission
Kwadwo Owusu-Afriyie, Chief Executive of the Forestry Commission in 2017 said, “If you look at the long-term benefits of preserving the forest (Atiwa) as a national park vis-a-vis mining the bauxite, the advantages of preserving the forest far outweigh whatever initial benefit that would accrue to us as a nation from the mining."
“When we have a national park like what is in South Africa and elsewhere, you go there and you see that people are indeed benefitting. I am particularly interested in the three rivers (Birim, Densu and Ayensu) that serve about seven million people in the country. If we are not careful, so many of us are going to die as a result of thirst because of the pollution of the rivers, so it is important we preserve and conserve it,” Mr Owusu-Afriyie said this when he met officials of the United States and The Netherland embassies in Ghana at Kyebi.
The president, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo on many platforms has expressed his passion for protecting the environment of Ghana. Speaking on a forum on galamsey with traditional leaders in 2017, the president said “as difficult as things have been and we are looking for employment and stuff, there are things that we cannot allow to happen and one of them is the heritage the inheritance that our fathers and our grandfathers, our great grandfathers bequeath to us especially the space, the Ghanaian space which we all occupy. We have a duty to preserve it for those who are coming after us.”
During his inauguration as president, the president stated that “we should all recognise the danger we face by the alarming degradation of our environment and work to protect our water bodies, our forests, our lands and the oceans. We should learn and accept that we do not own the land, but hold it in trust for generations yet unborn and, therefore, have a responsibility to take good care of it and all it contains.”
The commitment of the president in protecting Ghana’s lands, water bodies, forests and heritage is what gives the campaigners hope that, their campaign will yield results.