Residents living in communities such as Akyem Oda, Akyem Asuom, Akyem Asuboa, Aprokumase, Tabita and several other communities around the Oda Big Tree have raised concerns over the deforestation of the forest in the area around where the big tree is located.
When mynewsghana.net visited the locality, huge machines were seen bringing down part of the Essen-Apam forest reserve.
Some residents who spoke to us stated that a compartment of the forest reserve has been leased to a company that is bringing down the forest for rubber plantation. They worry that the company working may extend the felling down of trees to the part where the Big Tree is located and bring down the landmark.
A man introduced to us as an attendant to the Oda Big Tree who spoke to us on condition of anonymity said the people are sad that the virgin forest is been brought down ‘because of somebody’s parochial interest’.
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Some residents who spoke with mynewsghana.net called on Government to add its voice in making sure the company working at the Essen-Apam forest reserve does not extend activities to where the big tree is located.
Kofi Agyepong, a resident of Akyem Oda said “whoever is behind the act is a threat to tourism and an enemy to Ghana.” Other residents have threatened to use all the force at their disposal to resist the company from extending activities to where the big tree is located.
However the Municipal Manager of the Forestry Commission in the Birim Central Municipality Mr. Ernest Nkansah Kwarteng told us that the Forest which is home to the Big Tree is known as the Asubone Forest reserve and is different from the Essen-Apam Forest reserve where the work is currently ongoing.
He said people are finding it difficult to know the difference between the two forest reserves because of their closeness. That that part of the country has about three different forest compartments in the books of FC, he said, but many residents do not know this.
Mr. Nkansah-Kwarteng said that extensive research had led the forestry commission to realize that that part of the Essen-Apam forest reserve where a company known as Platinum Plantations Ltd is working was degraded beyond repairs. As such, the people have decided to go into a plantation project to save the land. He added that the company has been working in the area for about two years and has so far employed about 200 local youths.
He said he believes the people are agitating because the company’s work got to the road side and near to the Asubone Forest reserve where the Big Tree is located. “They have been working there for over two years. Go to the very deep rural communities in the area and you will see a huge rubber plantation there. They are only expanding their work to reach other part of the compartment they have legally acquired.” He told us.
Rubber and Teak
Mr. Nkansah-Kwarteng said the company had gone through all the appropriate legal processes to acquire the compartment from the forestry commission and added that, the commission had to embark on plantation to reclaim that part of the forest which has become degraded due to human activities.
The 2015 “Annual Report on Forest Plantation Development Programme” by the Forestry Commission of the Ministry of lands and Natural Resources noted: “In September 2015, the FC signed a [Public – Private Partnership] agreement with the company for the development of 1,210.36ha of commercial Rubber and Teak plantations in the Essen Epam Forest Reserve, Akim Oda Forest District, Eastern Region.”
Obrempong Sintim Poku, Chief of Akyem Manso and the Benkumhene of Akyem Kotoku Traditional area who is one of the signatories to the contract signed by the Forestry Commission and the Platinum Plantation Ltd said he was clear in his mind before signing that the concession does not extend to where the big tree stands.
“Though [even] as a land owner, I do not wield much power since that part of the forest has been taking by the forestry commission, I still would not have signed if the compartment would extend to where the Big Tree is.” He told mynewsghana.net.
The Chief said he was convinced that, in line with the documentations and the research conducted by experts, that portion of the forest needed to go through a plantation process to regain its forestation status, due to the level of degradation and that is why he agreed to it.
Obrempong Sintim Poku told us that he is in talks with the Ghana Tourism Authority to take over the Big Tree from the Commission to develop it into a proper tourist site.
Oda Big Tree
The Oda tree is believed to be the biggest tree in West Africa.
It has a diameter of 3.22 meters at 1.37 meters, 2.72 meters at 3.1 meters, making 12 metres in circumference and 66.5-90 metres tall. It’s girth is 10.11 meters at 1.4 meters and 8.63 meters at 3.1 meters.
It is located at Aprokumase in the Birim Central Municipality.
Although many believe the tree is located in the Essen-Apam Forest reserve, documents at the forestry commission states that the tree stands in the Asuboni Reserve.
When we contacted Kwadwo Antwi Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Tourism Development Company (GTDC) to discuss what the company is doing about the Big Tree, he told us that plans are in place to take over the Big Tree from the Forestry Commission.
Mr. Antwi said that the only attraction in the area which is managed by the GTDC is a ‘dilapidated’ recreational facility opposite the forest the Big Tree stands. He added that GTDC is considering establishing a highway rest stop with recreational facilities, accommodation, fuel station and properly managed lavatories for tourists and other visitors’ use.
He said that though GTDC has placed a worker at where the big tree is to help keep the place in shape for tourists and other visitors, the company does not have total control over the site. The GTDC will however continue to negotiate with FC to take over total control of the Big Tree in order to develop the place into a proper tourist site.
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