Eastern Region, Kyebi – 8th April 2015 - The Okyehene, Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin II has reiterated his untiring commitment to addressing some of the environmental challenges confronting the Akyem Abuakwa Traditional Area and has indicated his support for the protection of Atewa Forest Reserve and re-designation of its status to that of a National Park. He made these comments during a courtesy call by a delegation from the Forestry Commission (FC), A Rocha Ghana and civil society partners at the Okyehene’s palace, Ofori Panin Fie in Kyebi. Amongst others, the occasion was used to discuss with the King and his traditional council how best the Atewa Forest can be managed in the long-term to guarantee sustainable and full benefits for all in the light of the persistent threats from illegal logging and deforestation on-reserve and illegal mining in the off-reserve areas and especially along major rivers and water-bodies in the area.
Mr. David Kpelle (Tourism/Commercial Manager of the FC and the leader of the delegation) in his introductory remarks indicated that being a traditional leader who is deeply concerned about the environment, it was important to seek his support and ideas for the collaborative forest management project being implemented by A Rocha Ghana together with the Forestry Commission and other civil society partners in Atewa Forest Reserve and surrounding communities. This was important under the principles of good forest governance and collaborative forest management arrangements of the Forestry Commission. As part of his remarks he stated that, there is a need to share the responsibility for the management of our forests and environment and where there are benefits, the need to share these as well.
Osagyefo Amatia Ofori Panyin (Okyehene) welcomed the delegation and expressed his excitement anytime he meets organizations who are concerned about the environment. He acknowledged that our lives depend on nature and that if we destroy it then we are destroying our very lives. The King who has been a consistent advocate for environmental protection was concerned about the destruction of forests, pollution of streams and waterbodies in the area. In his statement he expressed how deeply he agonizes at the level of environmental destruction as a result of galamsey activities anytime he drives through the area.
He outlined the past efforts he and his traditional council have made in tackling some of the environmental challenges especially pertaining to illegal logging and mining. He indicated that it has been almost 15 years since he started his campaign against environmental degradation particularly, illegal logging and mining activities in the Atewa Forest and its environs. Over the years his efforts have gone beyond words being the first traditional ruler in Ghana to secure World Bank funding for environmental conservation in the Akyem Abuakwa traditional area. He stated that, amongst the many things he has done is the establishment of Okyeman Environmental foundation (OEF), Okyeman Brigade and the University College of Agriculture and Environmental Studies (UCAES). He said that, out of passion for the environment, he established the university so that the students could use the Atewa Forest Reserve as their laboratory to conduct their research. Through the Okyeman Environmental foundation (OEF), the Okyeman Brigade was instituted to clamp down on the illegal chainsaw and mining activities that was going on around the Atewa forest. Through their uncompromising efforts they arrested a lot of perpetrators and confiscated their chainsaws and excavators. However, due to several instances of political interference the offenders and confiscated equipment were always released to their owners without due recourse to existing legal procedures. His foundation also reclaimed some degraded sites as a result of the illegal mining but the illegal miners went back to re-mine the site. He stated that, these among other things serve to frustrate and dampen the enthusiasm with which the Brigade used to work.
He stated that as a people and a nation our attempts at short term gratification have always been the bane for the problems we are facing. One wonders how we can ever achieve sustainable development when we continue to do so. He also stressed the importance of respect for authority and for leadership. This, he indicated is one of the things we have lost as a nation and this is the genesis for most of the problems we are facing as a nation.
On the issue of illegal mining in the area, he indicated that attempts at connecting him with those acts is the imagination of debased minds. In his reaction to the accusations, the King stated emphatically that, he is not interested in digging the ground for gold and that, even if he was interested in mining he knows the right procedures to follow. He stated that, it doesn’t make sense that as the custodian of the lands, why would he want to exploit the resources illegally. He could easily ask the Minerals Commission to allocate to him several acres of land for him to mine legally. He later, called on the government and all the regulatory agencies that are responsible for the environment to help fix the problem by bringing all perpetrators to book. He indicated that the best way of dealing with the immediate threat of the illegal mining is by confiscating all the excavators in the area and only by doing so will we know the real people who are behind these acts. Moreover the excavator machines are not things that one can hide.
The King reiterated his commitment to environmental protection and sustainable development and expressed his appreciation at the visit and the interest of his office in working with the delegation. He assured the delegation that, as long as lives he will not allow the Atewa forest to be mined for bauxite. It is his wish to live to see the Atewa Forest Reserve developed into a national park. The National director of A Rocha Ghana, Mr. Seth Appiah-Kubi later presented a copy of the project document to the Okyehene. He expressed his profound appreciation for his expression of support for the work and assured him that the delegation will work closely with him, the FC, forest communities, other implementing partners and all the relevant stakeholders to ensure that the ultimate goal of the project is achieved.
A Rocha Ghana is part of a network of 20 national conservation organizations constituting A Rocha International. As an NGO, A Rocha Ghana has been in existence for over 15 years and has broad experience of the natural environment and of activities to promote and protect it. The organization provides practical conservation interventions aimed at building the capacities of communities in managing natural resources whilst helping them to improve on their livelihoods. A Rocha shares in the belief that the well-being of the Ghanaian people depends on the various goods and services provided by important forest and wildlife ecosystems. This includes the Atewa Forest Reserve which is the headwaters of River Densu which feeds the Weija dam which produces about 64 million gallons of water which is supplied to the western, eastern and central parts of Accra as well as the eastern parts of the Central Region.
Of significance among the work of A Rocha in Ghana is current efforts to promote greater awareness on the importance of the Atewa Forest Reserve and engender better long-term protection. This initiative is being carried out under the “Atewa Living water from the mountain – Protecting Atewa water resources ”a community collaborative project which forms part of the Atewa Critical Conservation Action Programme (ACCAP). The overall objective of this project is to achieve long term protection and sustainable management of Atewa Forest as a public good for securing livelihoods and water management, mitigating climate change impacts and conserving global biodiversity. It is being sponsored by the Dutch Embassy, Ghana through the IUCN Netherlands committee.