CHERRY VALLEY, Illinois — Forests are an important ecological anchor across the globe. They hold a wide range of benefits, from providing habitats to endangered species and supplying useful resources to serving as recreational spaces and tourist attractions. Yet, in some countries in Africa, forest lands are often prime real estate for developers who look to bulldoze the greenery for commercial gain. Like many forests in Africa, the Achimota Forest Reserve in Ghana’s capital of Accra is in danger. The Ghanaian government has sold a section of the reserve, based on a report that came under public scrutiny in May 2022.
The Significance of Achimota Forest Reserve
Some studies suggest that as little as 10 minutes spent in natural surroundings can improve mental well-being. At 1.4 square miles (889 acres) in coverage, the forest has a powerful impact on the community in the area. To regular visitors like Ekow Boakye, the reserve certainly has a tension-relieving atmosphere about it. “I love the way nature is blending with the animals,” Boakye told The World.
Apart from reducing stress, African forests bring with them a number of benefits. Forests can be a boon to some communities, considering Ghana held a 46% multidimensional poverty rate as of 2017. African woodlands provide resources such as fruits, vegetables, seasonings, medicinal supplements and building supplies.
One of the earliest uses of the Achimota Forest involved utilizing the forest as a source of firewood for the local school. “Africa’s rural poor are particularly dependent on its forests,” reads an Africa Renewal article from 2008. “Eighteen African countries, including Cameroon and Ghana, are among the 24 countries worldwide that rely on forests for 10[%] or more of their economies.”
In establishing E.I. (Executive Instrument) 144 in 2022, the government effectively declassified 361 acres of “peripheral lands” and handed this section over to its long-running overseers, the Owoo family, from whom the existing reserve land had been purchased in the 1920s.
The 1927 transaction of selling part of these lands to the government does not include any receipt of payment. In the 21st century, for more than a decade, the Owoo family has engaged in legal discourse with the Ghanaian government for the return of a portion of the land that the family felt the government was not using properly.
Now, some of these lands have gone back to their traditional caretakers. But, for some onlookers, the uncertainty of Achimota’s future threatens Accra’s economic stability and enduring biodiversity.
In Defense of Achimota Forest
“The 495 [hectare]Achimota Forest Reserve, created in 1930,” wrote GhanaWeb columnist Philip Kyeremanteng, “has over the years lost more than 150 [hectares]because of urban infrastructure development and illegal encroachment.”
The columnist proceeds to list potential benefits the Achimota Forest Reserve offers locals. Kyeremanteng notes that, like other forests, Achimota contributes to greenhouse gas elimination. Not only does it trap several such gases but the ongoing photosynthesis carried out by the hundreds of acres of woodland helps reduce carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. Furthermore, the forested reserve can help to stabilize climate conditions, the columnist contends.
“In urban settings like Achimota, for instance, the presence of trees can reduce the dependence on air conditioners,” Kyeremanteng said. Indeed, trees are large, long-lived plants capable of taking in carbon monoxide, one of the greenhouse gases that has contributed to increasing temperatures. Ghana itself, according to 2018 stats, produced 44,500.00 metric kilotons of greenhouse gases.
Extreme weather events, in turn, trickles down to affect impoverished communities. Inclement weather can destroy crops and entire livelihoods. When extreme weather patterns ruin the crops of the impoverished, communities lose their income and food security.
As far as economic benefits go, Achimota Forest is also a successful tourist attraction. If the woodland were to undergo development for urbanization, it would not only cut out a chunk of revenue rather quickly but would also have long-lasting and damaging aftereffects.
What E.I. 144 Means for the Achimota Reserve
E.I. 144, which permitted the sale of a section of Achimota, did not sell the entire land accumulated on the reserve. Social media messages sensationalized the story across several platforms, prompting outrage from citizens. Nevertheless, the reality is that much of the reserve remains unchanged.
Since the Owoo family got ahold of lands on the outskirts of the reserve, now declassified, “developers can begin work on the lands,” the GhanaWeb reported. But, in order to preserve the integrity of the existing reserve, Ghana’s government said that a “Master Plan” for this development is underway that will be designed with the interests of the reserve in mind. Going forward, any development on the section of land given to the Owoo family must receive approval from the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources who needs to evaluate its potential effects on the Achimota ecosystem.
Other reserves throughout Africa, not unlike the Achimota Forest Reserve, are a continual source of food for nearby communities. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, 2.5 million Ghanaians endured severe food insecurity. Forests also provide a lifeline of sorts for impoverished individuals as woodlands can help secure a more moderate climate, making for more reliable conditions to grow crops in addition to arboreal fruits. A forest then serves as a natural anchor for the human community. The Ghanaian government put in place a number of parameters to protect the majority of the remaining Achimota Forest Reserve. If the government upholds the protection of the reserve, the locals of Accra can enjoy the Achimota Forest for generations to come.
– John Tuttle