Achimota Forest to be turned into recreational park, Thursday, 07 August 2014
The Forestry Commission (FC) has received proposals from six private investors seeking to partner it in the Accra Eco-Park project.
The $323-million park project is expected to dramatically improve the Achimota Forest, which is the only greenbelt in Accra. Currently, the forest is rapidly being reduced in size as a result of encroachment and the use of portions of the land as refuse dumps by residents living nearby.
Under terms being proposed by the FC, the government is to become the largest shareholder with 55 per cent share with the private partner having 45 per cent.
The Chief Executive of the FC, Mr Samuel Afari-Dartey, announced this at the inauguration of a committee for implementation of the park project in Accra.
The 10-member committee has been tasked with the responsibility to ensure that the implementation of the project conforms to policy directions and provide technical, managerial and supervisory directives for the project.
Members of the committee are drawn from the FC, Forest Services Commission, Ghana Wildlife Society, Ghana Tourism Authority, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources (MLNR) and a representative of the lead development partner yet to be selected.
Features of ecotourism park
Mr Afari-Dartey said evaluation of the proposals would be completed by next month to pave the way for construction works to begin in October. The park project is scheduled for completion in five years.
Key features of the project would include a safari walk, an amusement park, an arboretum, a cultural village, eco-lodges, an orchard and a spiritual, commercial and visitor reception centre.
The Achimota Forest was set aside in 1930 as a buffer zone and was later transformed into a forest reserve. Unfortunately, 84 years down the line, statistics from the FC indicate that from an initial forest cover of 500 hectares, the area has shrunk in size to about 360 hectares due to activities of encroachers including the construction of residential accommodation and roads and the dumping of refuse in various locations.
According to Mr Afari-Dartey, the commission was determined to stem the trend.
“The need to undertake innovative ecotourism development as a means of safeguarding the ecological integrity of the forest has become very necessary. We, therefore, looked for success stories in ecotourism development elsewhere and shared the outcome of our findings with major stakeholders in a consultative process that was transparent,” he said.
He acknowledged that past management of the FC had concentrated efforts on developing the timber sector at the expense of recreation and wildlife sectors.
Destruction of Ghana’s forests
He said at the turn of the 20th century, the country’s forest cover stood at 8.2 million hectares but this had reduced to about 1.6 million hectares. In addition, he said the country was said to lose about 65,000 hectares of forest cover annually to illegal chainsaw operations.
While stressing that the process for selecting a partner for the project would be done in a transparent manner, he, nonetheless, appealed to the MLNR to help cut through bureaucratic red tapes that might threaten to stall the project.
The Deputy Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Ms Barbara S. Asamoah, who inaugurated the committee, said the conversion of the Achimota Forest into an ecotourism facility was a timely intervention that would save the forest from further destruction. Moreover, she said when complete, the park would generate revenue for the government and also provide a first class recreational centre in the city.
She urged the FC to do all it could to ensure that the project was successful.
Current activities at the Achimota Forest
Currently, apart from the Accra Zoo which has relocated to the Achimota Forest, the reserve is used mainly by religious groups for prayer and meditation sessions.
Meanwhile, some members of the public are protesting the decision to turn the forest area into an ecological park, but Rev. David Kpelle, the Business Development Manager of the FC, has kicked against the objection, saying that the project would rather preserve the forest reserve.
”We did it with Kakum Park and we’ll ensure that we succeed once more,” he said.