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Joann Ofori: The woman who has planted over 50,000 trees

Joann Ofori is a green activist in the Volta River Forest Reserve, with her base in Odumase Krobo, Eastern Region

Joann Ofori is a green activist in the Volta River Forest Reserve. Her concession is on the outskirts of Odumase Krobo, Eastern Region

Joann Ofori has planted over 50,000 new trees since 2009 on badly degraded land within the Volta Block Forest Reserve.

Her concession covers 104 hectares in total: she has planted roughly 50. The reforestation project, on Forestry Commission land on the outskirts of Odumase Krobo in the Eastern Region, is wholly self-financed.

The forest reserve stretches as far as Akosombo, which her workers describe as being “within walking distance”.

All pictures by Gideon Somuah for the Asaase Breakfast Show

Very few original trees stand on the site – one or two majestic mahoganies, the mango trees near the main clearing not far from the entrance to the concession, the odd palm tree that the workers tap for wine in the rainy season. They are easy to single out because they are so much bigger than the teak planted in the past 15 years.

Ofori planted 12 hectares in her first year on the land (2008-2009), mainly with teak – a highly fire-resistant hardwood species – but also bamboo as well as a few palm, chorisia and mahogany trees. There was healthy rainfall and the seedlings did well.

Devastating setback

In her second year she decided to step up her game and planted 20 hectares. Bushfires then destroyed most of the planting she had done in both years.

Bushfires and illegal use of the forest reserve for farming were the main cause of the degraded quality of the land in the first place.

Many of the farmers clear space for planting by burning the brush because they have no access to normal arable land, and no heavy digging equipment. Sometimes, when hunting, they use fires to smoke game out of the forest. These attempts to produce food often end in the brush fires getting out of control and spreading rapidly.

Using fire to clear land in a forest reserve is illegal. So is hunting.

Ofori showed the Asaase News crew one copse that had recently been torched.

After the bushfire of 2010, she was very discouraged, and it took Ofori a long time to return to the land, but now she has covered almost half of her concession in trees. She hopes to take an active part in Green Ghana Day 2022 and plant another 30 hectares this year.

Ofori works with farmers who clear and replant the land in exchange for keeping the produce they grow between the seedlings tomatoes, plantain, cocoyam. They avoid planting cassava, which disturbs the roots of newly planted tree seedlings.

She was given exceptional permission to build a four-room wattle-and-daub structure on site. Her chief woodsman, Salifu, lives on the concession in Odumase Krobo and supervises the farmers and on-site workers, also serving as fire warden.

Solid investment

The trees are trained to compete with each other, which makes them grow straight and towards the light

Ofori saw the first financial return on the investment she has made in improving the land only last year: she sold the wood from thinning out to ensure proper distancing that will allow the teak trees to grow healthily and straight, which makes the wood more attractive to buyers.

Speaking to reporters who visited her on the concession in the forest reserve for an Asaase Breakfast Show special report for International Women’s Day, Ofori described how the local rainfall pattern she knew from spending time on her grandfather’s cocoa farm in the Odumase Krobo area had been thrown out of sync by the degradation of the forest over a period of 50 years.

Reafforesting the land has led to a noticeable improvement in the air quality, she said. Replanting has also helped protect a river flowing from the hills near Somanya to feed the stream that serves as the main water source for the concession.

The stream is shrunk to a narrow strip in the dry season but is sheltered by bamboo. When the rains come, however, the waters swell

She intends to plough most of the proceeds from her first wood harvest back into the project, buying equipment and inputs that will make the work of planting trees to improve the soil easier and more efficient.

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