While the importance of the Atewa Range Forest Reserve is widely acknowledged, the extent of its significance differs widely. At the international level, the forest is recognized for its high biodiversity and the unique species it harbours.
It represents about 33.5% of the remaining closed forest in Eastern Region and home to many endemic and rare species, including black star plant species and several endemic butterfly species
At the regional and national levels, the Atewa Forest is the source of three rivers; Ayensu (103 km), Densu (116 km) and Birim (175 km). These rivers provide many of the inhabitants of the Eastern, Greater Accra and Central regions of Ghana with drinking.
At the same time the rivers support numerous industrial and agricultural activities along the river’s course as it travels downstream into the sea. At the local level, the fringe communities depend on the upland forests in a variety of ways. This ranges from water supply, food, medicines, firewood, household equipment and building materials, to raw materials for processing enterprises. While the extent of the forest resource value varies, there is a general agreement on the ecological, economic socio-cultural significance of the reserve.
A close look at the Atewa Range reveals a thick green closed canopy having all the three strata of a pristine forest. It has some of the tallest trees serving as emergent from the closed upper story that links with the second story which protects the fragile understory. All the stories provide the habitat and conditions that ensure the continual survival of the diverse life forms in the reserve. The physiology of Atewa makes the forest a critical component enhancing the environmental resilience of the surrounding area in terms of being able to withstand environmental stresses such as drought, mineral deficiencies, unfavorable temperatures, and air pollution.
Water and Water Resources
Among the three river basins that the Atewa Forest protects, the Densu River Basin is the most densely populated one. This basin also has the highest dependency in terms of water extracted for commercial and non-commercial uses).
Atewa therefore plays an important watershed protection function preserving quality and ensuring quantity of water reaching most homes in Accra and its environs. Approximately five million Ghanaians depend on these water sources and the critical watershed services provided by the plateau formations that soak up rain and mist and then hold, clean and discharge the water for all to utilize.
Aside providing portable water to inhabitants of Accra, Atewa also provide water for domestic chores for people of the numerous communities living along its course. The people use the water for cooking, bathing, and other non-commercial uses like subsistence farming.
Ecosystem Services from Atewa
Atewa Range provides local communities with a broad range of products including food, medicine, materials for building, energy in the form of fuelwood, etc. where enough, communities are able to harvest these products for commercial purposes. These products are mostly found in the forest or in cocoa plantations that are located within the buffer zone of the forest.
Approximately 350,000 m3 of timber and about 1,400 tonnes of other wood products are yearly extracted from the Forest Reserve.
Other timber products obtained from the forest include firewood, and wood for mortars and pestles.
Cocoa plantations also supply part of the non-timber products to local communities that also benefit from the harvesting of cocoa itself.
Atewa Range and its surrounding forests provide a number of regulating services including local micro-climate amelioration and air quality maintenance, moderation of extreme events, erosion prevention and maintenance of soil fertility, pollination and biological control of pest.
One striking feature in terms of regulating services at Atewa is the Range’s carbon sequestration potential. The vegetation in the Atewa Range, including forest, cocoa and herbaceous cover, contribute to capturing and storing carbon from the atmosphere, thus contributing to the maintenance of favorable global climatic conditions.
Atewa Range has unique characteristics that create economic opportunities for tourism, recreation, mental and physical health, and aesthetic appreciation.
The forest reserve represents a source of spiritual value and cultural identity to the Akyem Abuakwa Traditional Area. This includes a number of sacred groves located within the forest and a Royal Mausoleum at the Okyehene’s Palace. Although tourism potential is not part of the current supply of ecosystem services, the potential is apparent and future developments can create new revenues from nature.
Information on the socio-cultural significance of forest resources can be gleaned from anthropological, ethnobotanical, geographic, ethnomedical, and linguistic studies. The variety of socio-cultural values, beliefs and symbolic functions ascribed to forests are as numerous and diverse as the communities and cultures within forest landscapes of Ghana.
Atewa can be found within Okyeman (the Akyem Abuakwa Traditional Area), one of the richest areas in Ghana in terms of natural resources, including mineral resources, forest estate and biodiversity is located in the western part of Ghana’s Eastern Region.
The area is one of the most powerful kingdoms within the Akan traditional system in Ghana comprising 801 towns and villages which are organised into five Divisions (Adonteng – 155 towns and villages; Oseawuo – 288, Nifa – 113, Benkum – 218 and Gyasi – 27).
The forest has traditionally been regarded as the home of ancestral spirits who provide protection, success and progress to the Akyem Abuakwa Stool and the people of the Traditional Area. The forest symbols thus provide social structure and cultural identity in the rapidly changing environment to Okyeman. The trees, the links between the sky and earth, symbolize the links between the spiritual world of ancestors and people.
Some wild animals in Atewa are regarded as totems for some of the clans. Some streams and rivers are also regarded as gods by the fringe communities.
The reverence for these resources account for the taboos and norms that prohibit hunting of these sacred animals. Several studies have established the commitment of the people within the landscape to support any measures that will contribute to the continuous existence of the forest and maintenance of its ecological integrity.
In particular, the Birim river considered to be the dwelling place of the river goddess (Birim Abena), is a cultural heritage and a symbol of unity for the entire Akyem Abuakwa Traditional Area. This is demonstrated in a popular compliment (‘Akyemkwaa Onom Birim’ meaning ‘the son or daughter of an Akyem who drinks from the Birim River) often expressed by the vast majority of the people who associate with the river. Customary laws therefore mandate users to keep the Birim from being polluted because of its status as the dwelling place of the god (Abosom). In this regard, many individuals and institutions, quite apart from the indigenous people themselves, hold a stake in the continued existence of the reserve.
Atewa is surrounded by more than 40 settlements with an estimated population of about 75,180 (the figure excludes that for Adadientam, Awenare and Kobrisu) according to the 2000 national population and housing census report.
Atewa provides alternative livelihood opportunities for most local community members, who are predominantly farmers. Farmers supplement their earnings and dietary needs with activities like hunting and gathering.
Local handicraft industries acquire woods products from the forest to produce items like pestles, mortars and cane baskets. Chewing sticks and sponges, wrapping leaves used by market women and construction poles are also collected from Atewa.
Other non-timber products extracted from the forest include wild honey, wild fruits, rattan, mushrooms, spices and herbs for medicine. Trade in bush-meat, including snails, is also a very lucrative venture in the area. Collectively, close to 95% of fringe communities engage in one or more of these activities for sustenance.
It also a source of employment through value generated from the processing and trade of forest products, and investments in the forest sector.