Accra – 23rd November, 2020
A Review of Ghana’s Two Main Political Parties’ Manifesto – How Well is the Natural Environment Captured?
In less than a month, the country will be going to the polls to elect parliamentary candidates and the main leader, The President, who should steer Ghana to prosperity and continuous peace. This presents an opportunity for the populace to evaluate the intents and processes the various political parties will employ to get us there. Of course, being a conservation NGO, Save Ghana Frogs’ interest naturally will lean towards an assessment of what these political parties have as grandeur plans for the use and protection of the natural environment. We are by no means trying to sway any votes to any particular party, just a candid review of what have been said about our natural resources: Is nature well represented?; Are proposed measures practical?; How well do they fall within our forestry/natural resources management laws, international treaties and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
To keep it simple, we will focus on the manifestos of the two main political parties in the country, National Democratic Congress (NDC) and National Patriotic Party (NPP) in that alphabetical order.
Called the People’s Manifesto, this 121-page document, not counting the content and annex pages, dedicates four (4) pages to natural resources, a spot unequally shared with Science, Technology and Innovation. It has to be said though, that in certain sub-sections, we do find statements that make reference to the environment and natural resources. For example, 6.11.4 mentions:
f. zone and spatially plan the Exclusive Economic Zone to enable Marine Protected Areas to be set up to protect fish breeding and spawning areas.
The above was captured under the Agriculture and Agribusiness Section but are key points raised that stimulate our interest when it comes to marine ecosystem conservation, an issue people tend to neglect when the broader natural environment is under consideration. Now, let us focus on the key environment and natural resources issues that made it to 6.13 ENVIRONMENT, SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & INNOVATION.
In the preamble to the ENVIRONMENT, SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & INNOVATION, there is the promise to set up a “Science, Technology and Innovation Fund (STI)” which by all means, is laudable. Surely, the addition of the ‘Environment’ would not have affected to any large extent which ever trajectory was being envisaged. If the argument for not including ‘environment’ however, is that it is an area the others could take care of, well to be practical, if it’s a standalone, it becomes more visible and immediately clear that it has a place and a priority in the fund.
A cursory look at the various proposed actions that would be taken to safeguard the environment and we do find few ones that should win a praise from anyone such as gender mainstreaming in environmental issues and promotion and subsidisation of solar power. However, we find the boldest specific statement yet made by any political party in Ghana on natural resources management in 8.3:
d. ensure the sustainability of water sources by halting reckless projects like the proposed mining of the Atiwa forest that is rapidly depleting our natural water reservoirs through evapotranspiration.
For the benefit of those who may not be aware of the issues surrounding Atiwa Range Forest Reserve, this is one of West Africa’s most biodiverse and possibly Ghana’s last intact upland forest that harbours vast numbers of endemic and endangered plant and animal species including the critically endangered Togo Slippery Frog (Conraua derooi) and Afia Birago Puddle Frog (Phrynobatrachus afiabirago). It is also the headwaters of Ayensu, Birim and Densu which feed into the Weija Dam all in all, providing water to +5 million Ghanaians. There is some amount of bauxite deposit within the forest which considering the ecosystem services and the irreplaceable biodiversity of the area, Save Ghana Frogs together with other numerous experts, the Christian Council, US Embassy, IUCN (who voted on the issue), MUSIGA, Hollywood film stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, and nearly 150,000 signatories have proposed the upgrade of the forest into a national park. The park will generate revenue from visitors, the sale of carbon credits, creation of numerous green businesses, which will be a win-win situation for Ghana’s economy and the environment. Unfortunately, no government has been bold to state that this unique forest will be exempted from bauxite mining. In fact, plans are underway to start mining this critical ecosystem for short-term benefits under the Sinohydro Bauxite Barter Arrangement between the Republic of Ghana and the People’s Republic of China.
However, it’s sad to say that some projects regardless of how well they are being sold to us, are difficult to be reconciled with environmental protection. For example, the agenda to intensify and expand the agriculture sector will see, as stated in the manifesto, the construction of irrigation dams, an estimated 13 in all (6.11.9). We know the importance of dams but their impacts on the environment simply cannot be joked with. Dams aside destroying habitats also displace species, alter the natural flow of water thus affecting river ecosystems, depletes groundwater table downstream, and release greenhouse gases. Building new dams will conflict with proposed investment in water use efficiency. This is where the ingenuity of humankind comes in and it is an opportunity for the proposed Science, Technology and Innovation (plus Environment) Fund to steer research into finding options for crop irrigation that have less impact on the environment. Scientists have also suggested growing crops that require less water or are drought resistant; efficient water application; and smarter irrigation layouts. What is also noticeably absent in the manifesto is the promotion of agroecology farming which could take care of some of the issues of lack of water for farming. For some parts of northern Ghana threatened with desertification, a move towards agreoecology, which is farming practices mindful of the natural world could be the way to approach the issue.
We couldn’t help but also notice in 8.2.2 f. “establish a special purpose port at Keta.” What the “special purpose” alludes to is the least of our worries but the location in question is. Keta being a coastal town is part of Ghana’s largest lagoon. As a Ramsar site, this wetland area serves as a natural sponge thus, retains water and gradually releases it into the floodplains thereby reducing flooding. In addition, wetlands serve as breeding grounds for many marine life, and are wintering grounds for migratory birds so the idea as enticing as it may be, could be an environmental disaster. It also negates the lauded statement in 6.11.4.f.
This was quite a bulky document, 192-pages (minus contents page) with a total of 6-pages dedicated to Natural Resources (Lands, Forestry, and Mining) and Science, Technology, Innovation and Environment (minus cover pages). Also, there are projects not captured within these pages but have elements of environment and natural resources. This manifesto covers activities completed, ongoing or about to commence so they are not promises which may never be fulfilled.
Under Accounting for our Stewardship 1.11. Natural Resources, we have to admit that quite a lot have been done in terms of reforestation and integration of local communities and the youth in this programme. We appreciate the Government for these initiatives which we will applaud even more when a final evaluation and updates are provided. From experience as a habitat restoring organisation, one can never predict high successes; from forest fires to diseases, drought, e.t.c. Notwithstanding, 9 million trees planted along rivers; 25,000 ha reforested; halting the operations of small-scale mining and increasing conservation areas are still quite an achievement. This is where we do not get it though, there is the apparent desire to protect the environment but when it comes to Atiwa Forest and the issue of mining bauxite which most likely will destroy the landscape, reduce the provisioning of ecosystem services including the supply of water to almost 20% of the population, Government is not heading the warning signs from experts. Under 1.12. Science, Technology, Innovation, and Environment, where government is working with international partners to access the global fund for climate change management, this means that there is a vested interest in carbon credits. So why cut down trees in Atiwa Forest which could also get you these credits? It is very hard to understand this firm resolve as seen by the signing of the Sinohydro deal which now has paved way for ongoing “prospecting” activities regardless of the red alert from INDEPENDENT bodies and individuals within Ghana and the global community.
Overall, it can be said that both parties have committed and are committing to protect the natural environment and adopt strategies that align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. With just 10 more years to achieve these goals, we believe that more needs to be done. We still have issues with flooding which calls for the implementation of policies that will protect our wetlands, reduce the use of single-use plastics that choke gutters, redesign our cities to be sustainable and green. Why are there no talks of creating heat islands, community nature parks, and why are we not encouraging tree planting in our cities and towns even on private properties?
There also appears to be no room for education and sensitisation of the public on the value of biodiversity, the ecosystem, and the natural world. There is still a disconnect between many people and the natural world. As a country, we should get to the point where people think nature first. After all, we will not achieve any of the plans to boost the economy and promote good health if nature is depleted. As we continue to degrade nature, UN warns us of the impending dangers of more zoonotic diseases the likes of which we have never experienced before. We already are reeling under COVID-19, a devastation that has thwarted many of our plans for economic growth.
We end with this word of advice; “It will not be fair to the future generations if in our quest to remove the tag of ‘developing nation’ from us, we leave them with shadows of our beautiful natural world.”
Advocacy and Campaigns Director
Save Ghana Frogs
Tel: 020 2100 198