I recently found myself in the Achimota Forest Reserve. It was my first time. I cannot count the number of times I had passed by the forest, but it never occurred to me that there was much activity in what to be the most serene environment in Ghana’s noisy capital city.
It was a Monday afternoon but the forest enjoyed so much patronage. What I first noticed were the few traders at the entrance. Here, one can buy water, soft drinks and boiled maize. But the most dominant product was various brands of “anointing oil” meant for spiritual purposes. I was curious but I didn’t ask. I walked a few metres into the forest and my question was answered.
With beads of perspiration rolling down his shirtless, flabby body, a middle-aged man caused the forest to echo with his repetitive incantations in a language understood by only people endowed with a particular gift of the Holy Spirit. In this clearing, was another woman going up and down, also ‘blowing’ tongues.
On the main road leading into the heart of the forest, groups of worshippers (mostly women) emerged from the forest on either side of the road carrying plastic chairs. Their dress codes, language and the kinds of vehicles parked along the road, are enough to suggest that forest hosts people from all steps of the social ladder: children and adults, literates and illiterates, rich and poor, the employed, unemployed and unemployable. The list is endless.
Hundreds of prayer camps and mini-churches are a common feature in the Achimota Forest. Each entrant to the forest pays 50 pesewas. Last year, 180,000 Christians visited the forest to pray. I did my own calculation and arrived at a revenue of GH¢90,000. That’s ¢900,000,000. Almost One Billion old cedis. Business wasn’t bad, I concluded.
When I walked deeper into the forest, however, I realised that the cost and damage which the forest suffers from the worshippers and many other human activities outweigh any form of financial benefits it receives.
The Achimota Forest is an endangered forest. Some settlers around the forest have turned the forest into a refuse dump. Some construction sites and activities around the forest also fetch their sand from the forest. Encroachment is also taking a serious toll on the forest.
“When the Achimota Forest was gazetted in 1930, it had a total size of 494.95 hectares,” said Mr Samuel Afari Dartey, the Chief Executive Officer of the Forestry Commission. “Currently, the size of the forest is 360 hectares. We have lost 134.95 hectares or 27% of the forest.”
The establishment of the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration as well as settlements such as Dzorwulu and Abelemkpe has eaten parts of the forest. But that is not all the danger posed to the forest. Mr Afari says the forest is under a “serious pressure” from private developers and state agencies.
“Every road around Achimota and its environs must go through the Achimota forest reserve. If it’s about water, electricity or government offices, everybody points to the Achimota Forest Reserve,” he said.
The main purpose for establishing the Achimota Forest Reserve was to create a green buffer between the Achimota School and the City of Accra. It was also to provide cheap fuel for the School. It was to be partly managed as a nature reserve, recreational park and a nature study facility for students and researchers.
When the Accra Zoo had to make way for the building of the Presidential Palace, the Achimota Forest Reserve was where most of the animals at the Zoo were taken. The forest is currently managed as an arboretum and Wildlife Rescue Centre. There are hyenas, pythons, a camel, ostriches, monkeys and many more wild animals in the Achimota Forest. Patronage of the make-shift zoo is very low.
But there is good news. The Ghana Forestry Commission is turning the Achimota Forest into “a leading destination of choice for eco-tourism experience in the West Africa sub-region.”
The Commission says the “Accra Eco Park” will be the most pragmatic way of warding off intruders and dealing with the encroachment threatening the survival of the forest. They attribute the current imminent threat to lack of activity and investment in the forest.
Animals from various wildlife parks in Ghana and Kenya will be introduced into the forest, according to Mr Samuel Afari Dartey.
The forest currently yields an annual revenue of $60,000 from. But on completion, it is expected to yield an annual gross income of $5million. It will provide direct employment to about 500 people.
The Accra Eco Park is expected to have a road network, eco-lodges, fencing, landscaping, veterinary, introduction of wildlife, biodiversity hotspots, camping sites, watering points, salt licks, viewing platforms. Visitors to the park will also find a restaurant, animal enclosures and blinds, butterfly sanctuary, suspended walkways, water features, among others. Safari walks will be specially designed taking into consideration the elderly and the disabled. Eco-lodges will also be provided for those who want to stay overnight. Cultural village will also be established to promote the typical Ghanaian cultures.
There will also be an children’s play ground or amusement area where there will be water-based activities, rides, seesaw, food court, amphi-theatre, electronic games as well as a cultural village of replica traditional buildings, traditional restaurant
Christians who still want to “blow” tongues in Achimota forest will still have the opportunity to do so. But this time, their activities will be controlled and confined to a proposed “spiritual enclave” with well-planned landscaping, pavilions, grotto, sanitary facilities and what have you.
Work on the entrance to the park has already started and if the determination in the voice and eyes of the Forestry Commission’s CEO, Samuel Afari Dartey, is anything to go by, then families who are often stranded for lack of place for real relaxation will soon have something to smile about.
By these interventions, the ecological integrity of the forest will be safeguarded like Kakum National Park. Another Kakum Canopy Walkway experience is in the offing! Ghanaians can look forward to a unique experience of nature right in the city of Accra!
This will save Achimota Forest from further encroachment, waste dumping and loss of forest cover degradation.
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