Traditionally protected forests commonly known as sacred forests have a long history in sub-Saharan Africa. In many countries these are the only remnants of the primary forest. In Ghana, sacred forests occupy anywhere from a few hectares to several hundred hectares, and they are distributed across ecologically sensitive areas throughout the country. Sacred forests are great depositories of biodiversity and protect the headwaters for many water bodies and watercourses that provide potable water to rural communities. They represent significant cultural heritage of historical importance to the local people.
Ghana Sacred Forests Mapping Project
Yet, little importance is attached to sacred forest conservation at the national policy level, and their value is often overlooked.
This has allowed for inappropriate infrastructure development and unsustainable exploitation of the resources. Furthermore, an externally-driven change in local value systems has undermined the effectiveness of traditional means of conservation. These factors have contributed to the degradation and fragmentation of sacred forests in Ghana.
The sustainability of the sacred forests and indigenous culture can be enhanced by empirical information to guide policy direction for the sustainable management of these forests to preserve ecological and cultural heritage resources.
This community-initiated project combined participatory approach with GPS technology and Geographic Information System (GIS), and local capacity and traditional ecological knowledge in developing conservation strategies and encouraging preservation of sacred forests for biodiversity and socio-cultural wellbeing.
Local Capacity Development for Biodiversity Conservation
Local capacity building was essential for this project. In each community a Local Biodiversity Advisory Group was formed while taking gender into consideration. The group has enabled the communities to have a formal association to engage policy makers in matters concerning forest conservation within their communities and also access to government support.
Local Biodiversity Groups benefited from the following activities:
GPS mapping and forest inventory skills;
Fire prevention and management;
Sustainable harvesting of medicinal herbs and other non-timber forest products
Nursery establishment, management and sales, and record keeping; and
Forest Inventory and GIS Database of Sacred Forests
Local capacity was used for the forest inventory. The inventory information were uploaded to GIS system to create a spatial maps displaying sacred forests layers and their attributes. The database will be periodically updated when new information becomes available. The GIS database will be shared with the national government. In this way the local communities will have access to government conservation programs. The sacred forests database will provide useful information to guide national policy formulation to conserve biological resources within the locally protected forests.
The Project identified that:
i) sacred forests contain geological, cultural, historical and ecological features that could be developed into eco-tourism to generate employment and income in the communities;
ii) the forests protect the catchments of the communities’ sources of drinking water,
iii) contain rich non timber forests products (NTFPs) and other medicinal plants that can be developed to generate additional livelihood support; and
iv) the forests can serve as corridors for wildlife habitat by connecting adjacent forests together.
Collaborative Partnership and Policy development.
The project has generated a national interest among government institutions and other civil society organisation. A national stakeholder’s workshop was organised and policy directions and strategies for conservation of sacred forests in Ghana were presented. The policy document provides recommendations for strategies and directives that will be required for the protection, development, and sustainable management of sacred forests. The workshop attracted participants from the World Bank, UNDP, Global Environment Facility, Small Grants Programme, UNESCO, academia and government institutions (Forestry Commission, Environmental Protection Agency and Ministry of Local Government).
Overall, the project output has prompted the formation of partnerships at multiple scales and led to a coordinated response from state agencies in support of sacred forests conservation in Ghana. Sustainable management of sacred forests will enhance their ecological integrity and allow the forests to continue to protect water sources, serve as depositories of biodiversity, contribute to local and national economies, and support local peoples’ cultural wellbeing.
UNDP, GEF Small Grants Programme, Ghana;
Forest without Borders (FwB), Canada. www.fwb-fsf.org;
Rufford Small Grants, UK.