Residents of the Anloga District in the Volta Region are giving top priority to planting mangroves to protect endangered wildlife and life under water. This follows years of cutting down mangroves for economic purposes.
A visit to islands in the district about 18 months ago (October 2021) showed freshwater snails washed ashore because of the destruction of the water habitat related to human activity.
Carbon emissions, reduction in water levels, the decline in fish catches and wetlands drying up from exposure to the sun have been some of the challenges springing from human activity in mangrove forests in the district.
Local people call the mangroves “atra”. They harvest the mangroves for firewood and garden fences and sometimes use them to build pavilions and make handicrafts.
Residents of Anyanui, Gomigo, Atiteti, Galo Sota and surrounding islands travel by canoe to the farthest parts of Lake Volta to harvest mangroves. Apart from fishing, harvesting of mangroves is a common source of income for residents.
The sale of harvested mangroves is a lucrative business, especially for unemployed women in the district. Mangroves are sold in bundles of GHC6 and GHC10 to fishmongers from Aflao, Keta, Central and South Tongu Districts and the Greater Accra Region. It serves as firewood for these fishmongers. Other buyers use it for domestic purposes.
Lucy Adzohlia is a fishmonger from Galo-Sota. She sells fresh fish by the roadside on the Anloga-Dabala road and processes smoked fish for sale in bigger markets. She said that firewood from the mangrove lasts long when she uses it to smoke fish or for cooking.
The wildlife division of the Forestry Commission in Anloga estimates that thousands of mangrove plants are harvested each month by the residents.
Restoring degraded areas
The Forestry Commission’s wildlife division in the Anloga District has described the situation as alarming. It has implemented measures to combat the degradation of local mangrove areas.
The acting manager of the wildlife division in Anloga, Hope Avuletey, said the commission has nursed millions of mangrove seedlings over the years. The seedlings have been distributed to residents to plant in degraded areas to restore the destroyed mangrove forests.
Speaking in the first quarter of this year, Avuletey said: “We restored approximately about ten hectares and this is around Agotoe. In previous years, we’ve restored other areas.”
He said that the restoration of the mangroves was pursued in collaboration with non-governmental organisations in Ghana and the diaspora.
Gideon Adzagba is a fisherman and boat owner in Anyanui. He lamented that a “lack of education” had led local people to degrade the mangroves. However, “We are being educated. So, whenever we cut, we replant them.”
Has the situation changed?
A visit to the district from 25 to 27 March showed marked improvement with replanting of the mangrove forests. Wetlands which were dried up are now green with mangroves and a thriving ecosystem of birds, butterflies and other organisms.
It was a sunny afternoon in Anyanui during the visit. A canoe ride with Adzagba to see the restored mangroves rewarded us with breath-taking views.
The sky was a pleasant vista, with flocks of herons and other freshwater birds flying across and some taking shelter under the roots of the mangroves. This was not the case in October 2021 during my visit to Anyanui, Atiteti and Gomigo.
Fishing and farming have improved. “Yes, fishing at the restored areas is booming,” Adzagba said. “We are also seeing other benefits from it [restoration of the mangrove forests].”
A former assemblyman for Anyanui, popularly known as Akobam, said fishing on the lake is now more lucrative than it used to be. He said that women harvest catfish, freshwater snails and other types of seafood in the muddy areas of the mangroves.
Importance of mangroves
Mangroves play an important role in the ecosystem. Research in 2011 by the USA Forest Service showed that mangrove forests absorb roughly 50 times more carbon dioxide emissions than any other tree. It also absorbs other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
The roots of mangroves serve as shelter for life under water. They slow down the flow of water. This leads to a build-up of soil which otherwise would have been eroded. Freshwater birds use the mangroves as their shelter.
Mangrove forests, when managed properly, serve as a source of livelihood to residents through fishing.
Mangroves also control the currents of a lake/river, especially in estuaries. This helps to prevent the disasters relating to flooding which commonly occur in coastal areas.
These benefits of mangroves make it necessary for stakeholders to put measures in place to protect the forests, which in turn make a positive contribution to climate change.
The way forward
Ghana does not have specific laws to protect mangroves.
Article 41(k) of the 1992 constitution mandates every citizen to safeguard and protect the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency Act 1994 focuses on the establishment of the EPA and the control and management of pesticides.
Neither of these laws makes specific reference to mangroves.
Over the years, traditional rulers and family heads have been the decision-makers on the protection of mangrove forests.
“Currently there is no clear policy protecting mangroves,” Avuletey said. “We’re only appealing to the district assembly and then the other stakeholders to pass by-laws to protect these mangroves.”
He said the degradation of mangroves is a source of anxiety for the Forestry Commission. Under its wetlands policy, Avuletey said, the commission facilitates public education on how to use mangroves sustainably.
The Forestry Commission in Anloga says the Volta Region has the largest mangrove forests in Ghana.
Penplusbytes, a non-profit organisation in Ghana, has joined the campaign on climate change. The organisation facilitated training for over 20 journalists and editors in January this year on how to work to make climate change a priority.
Reporting by Albert Kuzor in the Volta Region
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