The biodiversity haven Atewa Forest reserve located in the Eastern part of Ghana was featured yesterday at the digital green zone exhibition of the ongoing COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland.

Sponsored by environmental NGO, A Rocha Ghana, the one minute fifty-one seconds video titled “Saving the Atewa Forest” explained into details why the Atewa Forest is beyond bauxite exploitation as it is being proposed by government through GIADEC.

Key among the highlights of the exhibition is the urgent need for nature-based finance to secure Atewa’s water for five million people. There was also the issue of prioritizing biodiversity conservation in Atewa through appropriate conservation finance mechanism and shifting to green investment to secure Atewa forest.

Deputy Director, A Rocha Ghana, Daryl Bosu told in an interview that, the objective of the exhibition was to showcase how the failing commitments of the international community is resulting in loss of critical ecosystems like Atewa.

“It was also intended to draw attention to the plight of Atewa while at the same time showing opportunities for shifting the current destructive development agenda to one that is green and long-lasting, good for people and nature”, he added.

A treasure of biodiversity

The Atewa forest, 95 kilometers (59 miles) northeast of the capital, Accra, spans 725 square kilometers (280 square miles). Ranging in elevation from 230 to 845 meters (750 to 2,700 feet), the reserve supports a variety of different habitats, including more than 650 species of plants and a rare upland forest ecosystem. The forest is also the source for the Birim, Densu and Ayensu rivers, which provide water for some 5 million people, including residents of the capital.

it is home to many vulnerable and endangered species. The white-naped mangabey (Cercocebus lunulatus) is found here, and what may be the last viable population of the critically endangered Togo slippery frog (Conraua derooi). Among 155 bird species recorded in the reserve are the brown-cheeked hornbill (Bycanistes cylindricus) and the Nimba flycatcher (Melaenornis annamarulae). The reserve also hosts 17 species of rare butterflies, half of which are found nowhere else in Ghana, including the African giant swallowtail (Papilio antimachus), with a wingspan of up to 23 centimeters (9 inches). New species continue to be found here, such as the endemic Atewa dotted border (Mylothris atewa), a butterfly recorded nowhere else, and a new species of hooded spider, Ricinoides atewa.

0n the 16th of October 2021, the Shelley’s Eagle-Owl, a giant owl and one of the most elusive and mysterious of all birds, was rediscovered in the Atewa Forest, after going unnoticed in Ghana by scientists for almost 150 years. The discovery was made by two British scientists working in Ghana.

There are about 30 communities — over 50,000 people — in the area. Most residents grow cocoa alongside food crops. They also enter the forest in search of bushmeat, snails, honey, mushrooms, and wild fruit.

This is where the state-owned Ghana Integrated Aluminium Development Corporation (GIADEC) is determined to develop a bauxite mine as part of a massive $2 billion infrastructure deal.

Atewa under threat

Even though the plan to mine in Atewa has been strenuously opposed by environmentalists and local communities, government through GIADEC still harbors the intention to mine. On Tuesday, September 14, 2021, GIADEC announced the implementation of four new Integrated Aluminium Industry (IAI) projects to develop the industrial transformation agenda of the country.

The IAI projects will involve investments to revamp and expand the existing businesses, including the bauxite mine at Awaso and the aluminium smelter at Tema. Besides, the projects involve attracting investments to develop new bauxite mines at Kyebi (Atewa Forest) and Nyinahin (Tano-Offin Forest reserve) and to build new alumina refineries.

President Akufo Addo delivering his message at COP 26
It is unfair to ask Africa to abandon exploitation of resources

President Akufo-Addo has described as unfair, calls for Africa to halt the exploitation of its natural resources as a way of contributing to fighting climate change.

Speaking at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, the President asked world leaders how they expect Africa to finance its challenges without exploiting its natural resources.

“Agriculture, water, energy, and the extraction of mineral resources are essential drivers of development in our countries but, at the same time, are characteristically sensitive to changing climate.

“The African Development Bank has stated that the continent will need some $3 trillion “in mitigation and adaptation by 2030” to enable us to implement our nationally determined contributions.

“The obvious question arises as to how do we, in Africa, finance these commitments, especially as our socio-economic development continues, unfortunately, to be low,” he said.

He added, “The Almighty has blessed our lands with abundant natural resources, and it would be wholly unfair for the world to demand that Africa abandons the exploitation of these same resources needed to finance its development and help us to cope better with the threat of climate change.”

God did not bless us with this beautiful forest to destroy

Some members of the public have been sharing their opinion about the statement delivered by the President yesterday.

One of them asked “So do Ghanaians prefer to mine bauxite which will be depleted over a short period or protect and preserve Atewa which will help in research, tourism, generate revenue for the country for decades and create jobs (training of field guards, research stations, etc”?

“As a country we haven't done enough exploration and research and the diverse species in our various forest/ reserves. We have various courses in our universities which are related to conservation, biodiversity, sanitation, climate change, etc. How can they have that practical experience and knowledge if we destroy our forests, water bodies, etc. Certain countries/ developed countries have already started experiencing Climate change. Some Islands are being submerged gradually due to high temperatures and all. Our forefathers ensured that these forests, water bodies, wetlands and groves were protected so we would benefit. Why then do we want to destroy them or overexploit them”.

Another member of the public noted that, the Atewa Forest Reserve can be exploited in an innovative green eco-friendly manner and make a considerable amount of money without destroying the environment like Philistines. “Mining bauxite at Atewa Forest Reserve is not in the national interest. God did not bless us with this beautiful forest to destroy it and poison the waters”, the member of the public added.

“Look at how gold has been exploited in our country to get an indication of how bauxite will be - no benefit to Ghana- even the very towns they mine from”, another person wrote.

Meanwhile, an online petition has been launched to turn the Atewa forest into a national park and the petition can be signed here.

By Awudu Salami Sulemana Yoda