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02.08.2005 Regional News

Communities benefit from 2.5 million dollar grant


Kyebi (E/R), Aug. 2, GNA- Twenty-nine Globally Significant Biodiversity Areas in the Eastern Region were on Tuesday formally handed over a 2.5-million dollar Global Environmental Facility (GEF) grant to wean them off reliance on forest resources.

These areas including communities fringing forest reserves are being supported financially to engage in various profitable alternative livelihood enterprises as part of efforts to reduce pressure on the forest and promote community participation in forest management.

The grant, made possible through the World Bank would be disbursed through a Community Investment Fund (CIF) in the form of loans to the participating communities.

Professor Dominic Kweku Fobih, Minister of Lands, Forestry and Mines who launched the CIF in Kyebi urged communities benefiting from the revolving fund to protect the resources and resist any action that would threaten the existence and sustainability of the forestry and biological resources.

"The continued destruction of biodiversity through reckless activities such as illegal timber harvesting, excessive exploitation of non-timber forest produce and encroachment of our limited forest estates will undermine the very objective for the establishment of the CIF," he said.

Prof Fobih urged the communities to become watchdogs of the forest. He expressed the hope that the appointed funds managers, the ARB Apex Bank and the selected rural banks would bring their expertise and useful lessons learnt from similar projects to bear on the successful implementation of this programme.

He said the successful implementation of the project could become a model for others and therefore called for a firm commitment from all stakeholders such as forest fringe communities, NGOs, landowners, the media and civil society groups.

"The Ministry believes in the principle of collaborative forest management as a viable option for the sustainable management of our forest estates," he said.

Mr Yaw Barimah, Eastern Regional Minister said the region could boast of 39 forest reserves with a total area of 176,940 hectares which approximated nine per cent of the total land of the region.

"It is a matter for reflection that about 70,000 hectares were either completely degraded or in partial state of degradation," he said. Mr Barimah said those reserves needed to be conserved because they contained a good number of biologically diverse plants and animals species, which were exceptionally rare internationally

"There are many tourist attraction sites including caves, waterfalls and butterfly sanctuaries found in these reserves which were home to three rivers, namely Densu, Birim and Ayensu that serve as water sources for the Eastern and Greater Accra regions," he added.

Mr Barimah said the fund was intended to mitigate the cost of biodiversity conservations that the local communities have to bear as a result of the establishment of the Globally Significant Biodiversity Areas.

He said it was for such reason that the communities that surrounded the reserves were organised into Community Biodiversity Advisory Groups and Environment Brigades to serve as lead agencies in operating conservation activities at the community level.

Mr. John Ekow Otoo, Acting Chief Executive, Forestry Commission said the 2.5 million dollars grant was just an initial component of the total grant depending on how successful the project was.

He therefore urged the beneficiaries to pay back their loans promptly to enable others to benefit from the fund. Madam Beatrix Allah-Mensah, World Bank Representative said it was the bank's vision to reduce poverty from Ghana through partnership and participation of communities in programme.

The Okyehene Osagyefo Amoaotia Ofori Panin urged governments to involve chiefs in the drawing up of programmes and projects involving the communities.

"Gone were the days when chiefs were regarded as illiterates and were not involved in decisions that affected them and their people," he said.