An international summit on saving the Atewa Range Forest Reserve was held at the Coconut Groove Regency Hotel in Accra, Ghana, on the 18th – 19th November, 2013, under the theme “ATEWA FOREST, A HERITAGE AT A CROSS ROAD, WHAT FUTURE?”
The two-day summit brought together delegates from local communities, local government authorities, traditional leaders, civil society groups, scientific community, faith-based institutions, media agencies, state departments in the water, forestry and minerals sector, development partners, diplomatic missions, practitioners and development professionals from Ghana and abroad. Also present at the Summit was the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Hon Alhaji Inusah Fuseini, who delivered the Keynote Address.
The main purpose of the Summit was to come out with consensual resolutions to key stakeholders that would foster long-term actions and measures by state and non-state agencies directed towards the protection of the watershed catchment and biological resources, of Atewa Range Forest Reserve.
During the two-day summit, delegates:
- Recognized that Atewa, a remnant of the Upper Guinea Forest of which about 15% remains globally, has the major Upland Evergreen Forest in Ghana, harbouring unique and highly diverse biological resources and rare, threatened species. That, it is also the source of three major rivers (Densu, Ayensu and Birim) that provides domestic water for over 200 settlements in the immediate watershed catchment as well as treated water for over 60% of Accra’s population.
- Noted that the value of Atewa Range Forest Reserve as a well conserved watershed ecosystem and a habitat of diverse biological resources is far more than the alternative land-use of timber and mineral exploitation can compensate for.
- Observed that despite its ecological, agricultural and hydrological importance, species uniqueness and richness, Atewa is under threat from deforestation and forest degradation activities like mining, hunting and logging, firewood and charcoal production, use of fires for hunting and farming, farm encroachment, among others. Even more perilous to Atewa is the pressure from corporate mining entities to undertake mining of bauxite in this unique watershed ecosystem.
- Noted that, despite the fact that, the Environmental Guidelines for Mining in Production Forest Reserves in Ghana 2001 specifically exempts, Protected Forest Reserves such as Globally Significant Biodiversity Areas (GSBAs), Hill Sanctuaries and special protection areas, Atewa Range Forest Reserve (with its unique ecosystem) which has been designated a Hill Sanctuary since 1995 and GSBA in 1999, continues to be depleted by a number of illegal activities.
- Noted that prospecting licenses for mineral ore given to corporate mining companies is a contradiction and an infringement on laid down mining laws and guidelines.
- Recognized that current institutional, legal and financial capacity and political commitments are inadequate to ensure effective conservation and management for Atewa Range Forest Reserve.
- Recognised that Atewa has an unmatched wealth of educational, ecotourism, cultural and socio-ecological values and significance.
- Recognised that, there is no place like Atewa Range Forest Reserve anywhere in Ghana, and if destroyed will be lost forever. And as such its conservation should be of prime importance.
- Acknowledged that Atewa is not only of local importance but also of global biological importance and therefore Ghana cannot decide on its fate alone but requires international consensus to deal with any land use interventions.
In view of the above and considering the urgent need to protect the Atewa Range Forest Reserve, the delegates agreed that:
- The legal framework of Atewa should be changed and the protection status be upgraded to that of a National Park taking into consideration the new concept of National Parks that safeguards biological and cultural values, allows ecotourism development and is community friendly.
- Government should see the issue of benefit/revenue sharing as important and also make sure that more benefits get to the local people. This could be done when government goes into partnership with the local stakeholders to undertake this venture. Appropriate equitable benefit sharing mechanism should be put in place by government through an appropriate consultative engagement to ensure that the local people benefit accordingly.
- It is important that government and its partners ensure that the resources of the forest are fully assessed and valued to support informed decisions about the forest. This will be based on the total inventory of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the area. Government decision on the management of the Atewa forest should therefore be based on sound evidence concerning biodiversity and ecosystem services.
- Government should immediately bring to a halt any form of prospecting and actual mining whether legal or illegal in the Atewa forest and its immediate environs.
- Relevant State Regulatory Institutions should exercise their mandated powers to ensure effective protection of Atewa forest and safeguard it from further destruction.
- Review and enforce the environmental laws to make them more effective in addressing general environmental issues.
- The communities and CSOs working within the Atewa area should be appropriately empowered to enable them demand accountability and take legal action against regulatory agencies, companies and forest offenders that undertake illegal activities in Atewa.
- There is a need for the collective responsibility of the Forestry Commission, civil society groups, particularly faith-based organizations and the media to build public awareness to promote understanding of the global importance of Atewa Range Forest Reserve
In view of the importance of Atewa in terms of the water, agriculture, biodiversity, ecosystem services and the mineral resources, the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources should as a matter of urgency designate Atewa Range Forest Reserve as a National Park.
In the short-term, the government should abrogate all mineral ore prospecting licenses currently in operation and respect the mining laws and guidelines by ceasing all future mining plans for Atewa.
Finally we strongly recommend that the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resource should work with all concerned stakeholders and agencies, both local and international as a matter of urgency, put in place the necessary consultative, legislative, institutional and financial resources to ensure the designation and management of Atewa Range Forest Reserve as a National Park.