Nature is wonderful and plays very crucial roles in sustaining life on earth as humans tap and exploit its resources and depend on the services that these resources provide.Throughout the history of mankind, natural resources have and continue to play significant roles in the socio-economic development of nations and people.
Such symbiotic and complex relationship between the environment and tourist activities is possible through appropriate policy, careful planning and tactful consultations. Carefully planned and operated ecotourism sites are able to provide direct benefits that might offset pressure from other less sustainable activities that make use of natural and cultural resources. This is the concept behind the proposed Accra Eco Park to be developed from the Achimota Forest, for which the sod was cut last Friday, August 19, 2016.
The 495 – hectare Achimota Forest Reserve was created by the Colonial Government of the Gold Coast for research, recreational and environmental conservation purposes. It was intended to be managed as such by the Forestry Commission for the public interest. However, developments in recent times has necessitated the Forestry Commission (FC) and its partners to re-package the Achimota Forest into an innovative and comprehensive ecotourism park.
The case for this development is that over the years the forest has lost more than 150 hectares through urban infrastructural development and illegal.
This will not be the first time an urban forested ecological zone will be transformed into an ecotourism facility.
The Nairobi National Park in the city centre of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, is a good example. Countries like South Africa and Costa Rica have vibrant ecotourism sector that have contributed to national development, safeguarding their natural resources and enhancing environmental sustainability.
In Ghana, the ecotourism sector is still rudimentary and the country is yet to witness the needed transformation that is taking place in other countries.
Nevertheless, the country can boast places like the Kakum National Park, which used to be a forest reserve, now an upgraded nature reserve, following the development of innovative ecotourism infrastructure such as the Canopy Walkway and Tree-top Platforms.
Currently, the Park is the most visited ecotourism destination in Ghana with more than 180,000 visitors annually, providing jobs to members of the rural forest fringe communities and has become reliable sources of revenue for the state as well.
This has been made possible with a financial grant by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and management of the facility by the Ghana Heritage Conservation Trust.
Currently, the need for more of such strategic public private partnership in re-designing and re-packaging nature reserves, has also become urgent in the face of dwindling public funding.
Hence, the move by the FC and Aikan Capital Ltd is commendable and records from the Forestry Commission indicate that due process has been followed.
In November 2011, the FC secured public support through a consultative process for the transformation of the Achimota Forest into the Accra Eco Park.
Following that, Cabinet approved the proposal in September, 2013 and in May 2013, the Accra Eco-Park Strategy Development Committee was established with representation from the Ministries of Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts; Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation; Lands and Natural Resources; and the Forestry Commission.
The Committee outlined the Accra Eco-Park Project Implementation Strategy in July 2013 in line with Ghana’s public-private-partnership programme.
Subsequently, through the Public Procurement Process,Aikan Capital Ltd. was selected to develop the Achimota Forest into the Accra Eco-Park, a major ecotourism destination in West Africa.
Announcement of this development was not well received by a cross section of Ghanaians, especially conservation activists.
They are of the view that the development will remove the only purposely preserved forested area in the Capital and thereby, destroy the existing ecological balance, and consequently, impact negatively on the lives of the people.
Some of the activists are concerned that the proposed project will not meet the definition for an eco-tourism facility, where nature is less distorted, such as at Mole in the Northern Region or Ankasa where the famed Bamboo Cathedral is located in the Western Region.
They are aware though, of the numerous job opportunities that will be created at both the constructional and operational phases, thus economically empowering many ordinary Ghanaians and generating significant revenue for the national coffers.
But for transparency sake, the architects of the Accra Eco-Park need to make their model of the park public, for all interested Ghanaians to be abreast of how the development will be like at the end of the day.
With the sod cut last Friday for the project to start, President John Mahama’s appeal regarding this development is worthy of note.
In his message read on his behalf at the sod-cutting ceremony, the President called on “all relevant stakeholders to support the project to enable partnership between the Forestry Commission and the Development Partner Aikan Capital, give the people of the city a nature-based world class recreational facility that will make Accra a major ecotourism destination in the West African Sub-region.”