As Ghana weighs economic benefits of mining bauxite for aluminum, multi-billion-dollar global companies support community groups calling for protection of critical forest. Natalie Hall, RSPB Senior Advisor for International Site Policy explains.

Atewa Forest, Ghana not only supports a wealth of rare and endemic wildlife, but also provides clean water for nearby cities. The Forest is teeming with life, home to at least 50 mammal species, more than 1,000 species of plants, at least 230 species of birds and more than 570 butterflies—including species found nowhere else in the world. It is home to the endangered white-naped mangabey; the critically endangered togo slippery frog, and the critically endangered Afia Birago puddle frog, which was only discovered in 2017.

Atewa is a Key Biodiversity Area, representing one of the most important sites for biodiversity conservation worldwide. KBA’s are identified using a Global Standard from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In a recent book, acclaimed biologist and author E.O. Wilson lists Atewa Forest as one of the 38 most important places on Earth that should be set aside for nature’s benefit.

Atewa Forest, Ghana home to more than 570 species of butterfly © Bruce Liggitt, RSPB

Threats to Atewa Forest

In late 2016, the Ghanaian government initiated plans to mine bauxite, the world’s main source of Aluminium, within Atewa Forest as part of a financial deal with China. Extracting bauxite in Atewa would require ‘strip mining’ where the whole surface layer of soil is removed. This means a total loss of the forest in the mined areas, along with all the biodiversity it contains. In 2019, bulldozers started to clear trees and create access roads in Atewa Forest, even after a number of international groups, led by A Rocha and local groups, now led by Concerned Citizens of Atewa Landscape (CCAL), had spent years urging the government to protect Atewa Forest in perpetuity by converting it into a national park.

Atewa forest – encroachment by gold mining © photo by Bruce Liggitt, RSPB

Global Companies Supporting Community Groups

Recent hope for the protection of Atewa Forest comes with the announcement that three global manufacturing companies—BMW Group, Tetra Pack and Schüco International, will not purchase bauxite sourced from Ghana’s Atewa Forest because of the catastrophic and irreversible effects it would have on the people and wildlife that depend on the forest. This includes the more than 5 million Ghanaians that depend on Atewa Forest as their source of clean drinking water.

Atewa Forest provides clean drinking water for surrounding communities © Jeremy Lindsell, A Rocha

“Saving Atewa Forest from mining should be an intergenerational priority, and we are happy and grateful that big businesses in the aluminum value chain understand the importance of a healthy forest and the environmental services it provides,” said Mr. Oteng Adjei, president of the Concerned Citizens of Atewa Landscape (CCAL), the recipient of letters from all three companies. “We appreciate their commitment to supporting local and international efforts to secure Atewa Forest against bauxite mining that is certain to destroy the forest, its water services and biodiversity.”

BMW, Tetra Pack and Schüco International are all members of the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI) established to certify the production and supply of aluminium including bauxite extraction. Campaigners to protect Atewa Forest have repeatedly insisted that purchasing bauxite mined from in the Atewa Forest would not meet ASI’s standards. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) passed a resolution in November of 2020 demanding global action to save Atewa from bauxite mining, joining the international call to protect this irreplaceable forest.

RSPB support for sustainable development in Ghana

While the government of Ghana’s desire to develop the aluminium sector for economic development and poverty reduction is recognised, mining in Atewa Forest is not a long-term solution. “As we are beginning to realise the catastrophic consequences of the nature and climate crises that are facing our world, it is good to see that global corporations are acting to ensure that their supply chains are more sustainable,” said Martin Harper, Director of Conservation at the RSPB

“At the same time, we support the Ghanaian government’s efforts to ensure sustainable development to improve the lives of all its citizens and commend Ghana’s international commitments to climate and nature made under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and Convention on Biological Diversity.”