The Atewa Range Forest Reserve (Atewa Forest) in the Eastern Region of Ghana as one of Africa’s rich biodiversity hotspots deserves the utmost priority in nature conservation for its long-term benefit to the country. As we celebrate 26 years of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) otherwise known as the Rio Convention, SAVE THE FROGS! Ghana calls on the government as a matter of urgency, to honour Ghana’s commitment to this legally-binding treaty and conserve Atewa Forest by not destroying it for short-term economic gains by mining its bauxite.
The Atewa Forest has a distinctive upland evergreen forest vegetation that supports endemism and serves as a safe haven for some of the world’s rarest and threatened species such as the critically endangered Togo Slippery Frog (Conraua derooi); it is also the headwaters of River Ayensu, Birim, and Densu which flows into the Weija Dam all in all supplying water to almost 20% of Ghana’s population.
Despite its designation as a high conservation area, the ‘cursed’ presence of low-grade bauxite tucked beneath Atewa has spurred the utter disregard by governments for its biodiversity value. Recently, the government announced a deal between Ghana and China for a US$19 Billion infrastructural loan to be paid for by mining bauxite at Atewa and Tano-Offin Forest Reserves which the latter interestingly, is the only other upland evergreen forest vegetation in the country.
One cannot pardon government for this disloyalty to the Convention even though enough evidence provided through studies points to the fact that Atewa Forest offers better benefits than bauxite mining especially if its conservation status is upgraded to a National Park. Perhaps, the government should consider the three CBD goals to which Ghana signed on to in order to reconsider its decision:
- Conserve her biodiversity
Several of Atewa’s biodiversity which are of global importance will be threatened should the forest be mined. Groups of most concern are amphibians which have a third of occurring species threatened with extinction. Some populations in this forest such as that of the critically endangered Togo Slippery Frog are the last remaining ones the world over. Atewa is also one of Africa’s most important bird sites with +150 species some of whom like the Nimba Flycatcher (Melaenornis annamarulae) is restricted here.
Rich insect diversity from the forest at least ensures pollination of important trees including economic crops such as cocoa. For insect species such as Mylothis atewa and Anthene helpsi, they are known to occur only in this forest. Of the 765 different species of vascular plants recorded here, at least 106 of these are endemic to West Africa.
Beyond the short-term economic gains, mining bauxite within Atewa Forest will lead to habitat modification and fragmentation; overexploitation of several species; introduction of invasive species thereby contaminating original genetic information; and cause the pollution of soil, air, and water with its associated negative impacts on biodiversity. Noise pollution from blasting and constant movements of heavy machinery, as well as the use of artificial lights, could also induce mass exodus of several taxa as well as expose their vulnerability.
- Sustainably use its components
Atewa Forest as it currently stands provides a variety of ecosystem services enjoyed not only by local communities but several others remote from its location. At least, an estimated 5 million Ghanaians depend on water from Atewa for agriculture, domestic and industrial uses. Additionally, several occurring plants are used as a medicine, food, building materials, e.t.c. These are some of the benefits to people for decades with never an issue of scarcity. No amount of compensation will be great enough for the loss and depletion of these services which bauxite mining will cause. Furthermore, bauxite mining is not an activity that will sustain the natural functioning of Atewa’s ecosystem.
- Equitably Share Benefits Arising From Genetic Resources
This third goal will practically be useless if bauxite mining is encouraged at Atewa Forest because where there is depletion in the quality and quantity of biodiversity, not much benefit from genetic resources will be available to go round for everyone. Even if financial compensations from mining does occur, this still does not represent benefit-sharing from genetic resources, neither can it offer a better option for poverty alleviation since pay-outs are mostly a onetime occurrence and often can be difficult for beneficiaries to use the money to develop sustainable sources of income. At least, Atewa as a standing forest has a better chance of storing genetic resources which could be our future sustenance.
As we celebrate World Biodiversity Day, let us appreciate what Atewa has to offer through its biodiversity for others wish they could have such a priceless gift. Ghana, live up to your expectations as a signatory to the CBD and protect Atewa’s biodiversity!
Atewa: Our Biodiversity; Our Food; Our Health; Our Water; Our Livelihood; Our Heritage.
SAVE THE FROGS! Ghana