The government is considering putting on hold its plans to mine bauxite in the Atiwa Forest in the Eastern Region.
That, according to the Chief Executive of the Forestry Commission, Mr Kwadwo Owusu-Afriyie, is to allow the government to assess proposals to turn the forest into a national park with ecotourism facilities.
Mr Owusu-Afriyie made this known when he met officials of the United States and The Netherland embassies in Ghana at Kyebi yesterday.
Officials of the two missions, led by the US Ambassador to Ghana, Mr Robert Jackson, and Deputy Head of Mission of The Netherlands, Ms Caecilia Wijgers, were in the Atiwa Forest area to get first-hand knowledge on efforts being led by an environmental non-governmental organisation, AROCHA Ghana, to ensure that the forest reserve is declared a national park to protect its biodiversity.
The team visited the AROCHA Ghana offices and paid a courtesy call on the Okyenhene, Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin II.
President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo announced this year that the bauxite deposits in the Atiwa Forest at Kyebi and Nyinahin in the Ashanti Region would be mined for the production of machine parts in the country to create jobs for the youth but it appears that position is changing now.
“If you look at the long-term benefits of preserving the forest 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. It makes sense to preserve the forest and turn it into a national park’’, the Chief Executive said.
“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 more, 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.
He said when the ecotourism plans for the forest reserve were implemented, the reserve would have facilities such as a cable car, canopy walkway and recreational centres which would not compromise the ecological state of the forest.
Mr Robert Jackson US Ambassador to Ghana, in a handshake with Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori-Panin, the Okyenhene, during a courtesy call on him at his palace at Kyebi. Pictures: Gabriel Ahiabor
Leave the forest
Receiving the delegation at Kyebi, the Okyenhene said it was ironic that the Atiwa Forest, with all its species, was being destroyed by illegal miners.
He said galamsey was fuelled by the desire to make quick money, as well as a complete breakdown of law enforcement.
“It is an ecotourism park that we can leave for future generation, but the economic and poverty situation would not let us sleep. They are attacking the forest, they are destroying lands. I don’t think we have enough law enforcement to stop them. For now, we understand one thing that if we don’t stop this now, we won’t have a future for our children and their children,” he said.
The US Ambassador to Ghana, Mr Robert Jackson, commended AROCHA for leading the effort to conserve the forest and give it a national park status.
He said Ghana would be better off developing its resources in a sustainable way, which in the long term, was preferable to the short-term benefits.
Mr Jackson said the US would continue to support efforts to improve air and water quality in Ghana and develop long-term sustainable opportunities for young people and others generally.
Pledging support for the country’s fight against illegal mining, Mr Jackson said the US believed in programmes that brought sustainability and added value to resources in Ghana in ways that were sustainable.
He also pledged the support of the US government to fight the galamsey menace.
Ms Wijgers, for her part, said the Dutch government, which currently sponsored AROCHA Ghana’s campaigns, would continue to support efforts to ensure that the Atiwa Forest Reserve will become a national park to conserve its biodiversity.
She called for dialogue among civil society organisations, mining companies and other players in the private sector to find sustainable ways of developing the country’s resources.
AROCHA has been on a crusade against mining in the Atiwa Forest for years, insisting that the benefits of ecotourism would be more beneficial than mining bauxite in the reserve which was created in 1926, upgraded to a special biological protection area in 1994, hills sanctuary in 1995 and a globally significant biodiversity area in 1999.
According to the analysis of AROCHA, bauxite extraction would reduce the value of the Atiwa Forest for water consumption by $386.9 million over 30 years, and for agricultural water by $22.7 million with estimated economic gains from bauxite which is smaller in comparison.
The Project Manager of AROCHA, Mr Emmanuel Akom, observed that there was no difference between small-scale miners and illegal miners in the area as the operations were leaving the same trail of devastation on the environment.
With so many endangered species, including monkeys, butterflies, wild animals and biodiversity to protect, he said, the country stood to gain a lot from protecting the Atiwa Forest.