Ecotourism is an effective way to help safeguard a country’s resources while promoting socio-economic development and empowerment of local communities. Africa presents a number of success stories in that regard, ranging from Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve to Gabon’s Loango National Park and Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Though still in its early stages of development, Ghana’s eco-tourism segment also boasts significant potential, and the country has made some headway in developing a range of dedicated facilities and tours at some of the main parks and reserves. These include Mole National Park, Kakum National Park, the Ankasa Conservation Area and Shai Hills Resource Reserve. A recent deal to develop an eco-park in the capital city of Accra is expected to further bolster the segment’s offering. Wildlife watching in particular, which according to a 2014 UN World Tourism Organisation report comprises 80% of total annual trip sales to Africa, is one segment in which Ghana could further capitalise on.
Greening The City
In February 2016 the Forestry Commission of Ghana signed a lease agreement with a private development company, AIKAN Capital, to transform Achimota Forest Reserve – a large patch of woodland in the northern part of the city, surrounded by built-up areas and the N1 motorway – into a dedicated eco-park known as Accra Eco Park. The park is estimated to cost $1.2bn and will host selected wildlife species, safaris, an amusement park, a cultural village and eco-lodges. The project is scheduled to be completed in the next five to seven years and expected to serve as a main tourist attraction in West Africa, bringing in around 600,000 visitors annually.
While the project will present Ghana with an opportunity to further explore its ecotourism potential, it will also serve to address a lingering threat to the country’s biodiversity and natural habitat. The Achimota Forest Reserve has lost around 150 ha of land since its creation in 1930 as a result of urban development.
According to Nii Osah Mills, former minister of lands and natural resources, Ghana’s forests and wildlife have been faced with serious encroachment and destruction. Reporting to local media in September 2016, he announced that a rapid response unit within the Forestry Commission had been established to boost efforts by the military and police to address the problem. The rapid response unit was reported to have destroyed 104 illegal farms and galamsey (artisanal gold miner) huts in the forest reserves during 2016.
Ghana’s forests are also set to benefit from a $24m aid package, backed by a $10m loan from the Climate Investment Funds’ Forest Investment Programme and $14m from the African Development Bank (AfDB). Approved in September 2016, these funds aim to restore degraded forest reserves as well as expand an existing sustainable forest plantation from its current 5000 ha to around 12,000 ha. The project will be carried out in partnership with Form Ghana, a forest plantation management company. Other efforts include a Wildlife Resource Management bill that is in the works, which seeks to further preserve national forests, control illegal logging and protect against wild fires.
Poaching, illicit wildlife trade and illegal mining are problems common to most sub-Saharan African countries and stand as a growing threat to the tourism sector. Though one of the fastest-growing industries in recent years, according to the AfDB – with international arrivals to Africa reaching 56m in 2014, up from 26m in 2000 – Africa is increasingly having to grapple with these issues. As a result, the move to protect wildlife and natural resources is a crucial one if it is to attract more tourists and promote ecotourism.