5 Jun 2019

Ghana's Atewa Forest under threat from mining devastation

Atewa Forest, Ghana not only supports a wealth of rare and endemic wildlife, but also provides clean water for nearby cities. Despite this, the Government intends to mine the area for bauxite, destroying the entire forest in the process. Can the conservation world overturn this devastating plan?

Atewa Forest is the source of three rivers © Shutterstock
Atewa Forest is the source of three rivers © Shutterstock
By Margaret Sessa-Hawkins

Update: Despite cautions from the U.S Forest Service, on May 30 the Government of Ghana began creating access roads into Atewa Forest Reserve in preparation for the bauxite mining. A Rocha Ghana, Ghana Wildlife Society and other CSOs are still fighting to save this unique forest. You can help by signing the petition and spreading the word using #AtewaForest and #SaveAtewa4Water

When Atewa Hills was originally designated a Forest Reserve in 1926, it was to protect its value as a watershed source. The Reserve houses the headwaters of the Birim, Densu and Ayensu rivers and their tributaries; vital water sources for the surrounding communities including Ghana’s capital, Accra. As the years passed, people began to recognise other values of the forest as well. More than 100 species that live in the forest are globally threatened, and more than 227 species of bird call Atewa home.

However, for some the value of Atewa is not the forest itself, but the minerals that lie beneath its soil. Atewa sits atop roughly 150 million tonnes of bauxite, which is used to make aluminium. The Government of Ghana intends to mine the Atewa Range Forest Reserve as part of a national infrastructure development programme. The bauxite deposit will be used as a mortgage to the Chinese to fund the country’s development drive. Worryingly, at the end of May the government of Ghana began clearing routes into Atewa Forest in preparation to commence mining. The situation is getting urgent.

Several groups including A Rocha Ghana, Friends of the Earth Ghana, West African Primate Conservation Action, Ghana Wildlife Society (BirdLife Partner), and a number of professional institutions and state actors are opposing the project. This is because in order to mine the Atewa Range Forest Reserve, the entire forest would have to be removed. Even if this forest was not considered irreplaceable, re-growing the forest after bauxite mining would be nearly impossible, as soil is extremely disturbed during the process.

The organisations argue that Atewa forest does not need to be mined for industry to proceed. In 2016, A Rocha, along with its partners, published a report on the economics of Atewa Forest and found that if it were granted National Park status with a well-managed buffer zone it would return higher economic value to Ghana over 25 years than mining would. Currently, the groups are advocating for a government policy change that would avert plans to mine at Atewa. They are also strengthening their efforts to develop models for sustainable green businesses around Atewa such as ecotourism and cocoa processing value addition.