GHANA: THE RESEARCHED FOREST OF CSIR-FORIG

By: Napoleon Ato Kittoe/www.africanakua.com/Ghana

Ghana’s forest estate shrinking, tree habitat systematically being ceded in the wake of increasing human activities. Mining, tree felling, construction, expansion in human settlements among others, the causes. It is also cause of distortions in ecological set up and changes in weather patterns. Through the lenses of the Forestry Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG) in Kumasi, one of the thirteen institutes of Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the economic importance of forests is established.

In the midst of the ravaging circumstances on forests in Ghana, the Forestry Commission has ensured that forest reserves are protected for obvious reasons. One of these forest reserves is the Borbiri Forest and Butterfly Sanctuary, a few kilometres from Kubease near Ejisu in Ashanti region of Ghana. This forest reserve is a distance of about five kilometres when you branch off at Kubease into the forest interiors.

Borbiri Butterfly Sanctuary

Fully managed by the Forestry Commission, the total area of the reserve is fifty-four point six-five square kilometres and boasts more than one hundred timber species. A portion is marked as the research working circle of the CSIR Forestry Research Institute of Ghana. Twenty-four out of the seventy-three compartments of the reserve are working circle of researchers, mainly for education, tourism and research purposes. Forty-nine compartments are tree production zones where timber is supposed to be harnessed on sustainable basis. The management approach is selective logging supervised by the Forestry Commission. Selected species of timber are thinned out for concession for a period of five years. When that window is closed, the timber fields are left intact for forty continuous years during which harvested trees are fully regenerated.

Borbiri Forest is a colonial legacy gazetted under a forest ordinance act in 1939, designating the site as field station for forestry administration. It has since been kept under near primary conditions. Somewhere in the 1990s, researchers considered restructuring and upgrading Borbiri forest reserve. In their study of insects, two etymologists, a former Director of the Forestry Research Institute of Ghana, FORIG, Prof. Joe Cobbinah and American Prof. Mark Wagner, discovered and immediately called for the institution of a butterfly sanctuary within Borbiri Forest Reserve. A guest house was added.

The forest houses more than four hundred species of butterflies. It also has extensive presence of fauna, attracting some one hundred and twenty bird species. Worldwide, the endangered Borbiri Reef Frog is said to be found in only Borbiri Forest and a location in La Cote d’ ivoire. Also present in this forest, are Pangolins and Goliathus Beetles, both on globally endangered list. In the case of Goliathus Beetles, Ghanaian researchers found that they emerged in abundance during the flowering period of a plant called Albizia Zygia. An endangered tree specie as pericopsis elata is being conserved in Borbiri Forest.

Ghana’s CSIR Forestry Research Institute has created two orchards of the pericopsis elata in Borbiri Forest to keep the scarce tree specie alive.

The Borbiri Forest

Dr Emmanuel Abayeri of the Wood Anatomy Laboratory of FORIG, said the plant is on the scientist’s appendix one list, meaning it is a protected specie and it is illegal to trade in pericopsis elata. He says, his lab conducts analysis which eventually highlights the distinction between the pericopsis elata and close matches. He said, it is important such a distinction is made so that exporters do not swap pericopsis elata with other timber of less value. 

The plant is robust and gregarious in nature. Ironically, pericopsis elata flourishes in low nutrient soil and in sunlight. It is marked endangered by forest conservationists who describe the harvesting of the specie in the contemporary sense as unsustainable.  Common on West Coast of Africa, all the way from Cote d’ ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria through Cameroon to DRC, scientists urge national authorities to guard it from going extinct.

Inside this arboretum, are ancient tree species found in tropical rainforests. There is also a bamboosetum that houses more than fifteen provenances of bamboo. Deputy Director General of CSIR, Ghana, Professor Paul Bosu says “it is an assemble of some of the best known species of bamboo from parts of the world”. A Principal Technologist of CSIR-FORIG, Christian Opoku Kwarteng who is the tour guide in Borbiri Forest Reserve affirmed that bamboo is used in furniture, housing, rattan industry whilst some provide ” edible shoot”. The presence of bamboo in a forest not its natural habitat would cause some jitters in north American tourists who visited the place. Ruth Stewart from Vermont in US said, the changes could displace birds from this setting since birds do not perch on bamboo.

She was part of a team of bird watchers from the US and Canada who had arrived in Ghana from Bolivia  searching for a bird called Hyliota. 

The tropics bird had been a needle in haystack for the roving team. If you dug deeper on the fact profile of the bird, you discover that its taxonomic genus is as yet unknown.

My tour guide took me back to the trees  claimed to be protective shield on water bodies. Indeed, the Borbiri Forest is crisscrossed by five rivers, one of which called “aborbiri” is the name after which the forest itself is titled. “The forest keeps groundwater pristine and what a scientific way of keeping water in healthy state for surrounding villages.” He says, plant products are integral part of herbal medicine. They are used for treating malaria, diabetes, diarrhoea, high and low blood pressure. “Some are used as aphrodisiacs, some are used for treating hyperactivity related to depression like the exudate from ” diberja latya”.

CSIR-FORIG in Kumasi has produced a syrup out of “prekese” which it says treat convulsion, asthma, hypertension and boosts human immune systems. Prekese is the akan name for galbanum, a plant fruit mentioned only once in the bible in Exodus 30:34.

Forest also serve as source of food such as “bush meat, honey, mushroom, snail etc. Furniture and wood for construction as well as pulp for the paper industry are from the forest”. To save foreign currency, FORIG has substituted imported wheat starch with that of cassava in results, representing collaborative work with sister institutes as Crop Research Institute and Food Research Institute. The only wooden bridge in Ghana found in Kumasi was built by another sister institute, the Building and Roads Research Institute,  with material tested in the labs of FORIG. The timber species used on the bridge are right in Borbiri Forest Reserve. They are, Dahoma with botanical name, Piptadeniastrum Africanum, Afina or Strombosia Glaucescense, Kusia or Neuclea Diderichii and Denya or Cylicodiscus Gabonensis.

Besides these, forest serve as home for wild animals like lions, snakes and hyenas most of which are inching closer into human domain as forests are depleted.

Scientists say, the forest is the surest bet in mitigating climate change, in that it serves as a sync for carbon. Of the factors causing climate changes, the one scientists appear to zero in most is carbon dioxide which is human induced gas. “Forests are reliable means of sequestering carbon”, according to Christian Opoku Kwarteng. He notes that, ” there are several gases that combine to have this effect that we call global warming and these are called greenhouse gases….and its effect is called greenhouse effect, these include nitrous oxide, the ozone, water vapour, methane, CFCs, HFCs but carbon dioxide comes from human activities hence need to control that source through exhortations to good moral behaviour”. These greenhouse gases have a positive impact on the earth as they serve as a blanket over the earth, absorbing effect of solar radiation without which the earth would have been so cold that humans cannot survive. When  concentrations of greenhouse gases are above required thresholds the heating effect around the earth becomes uncomfortably hot, translated as global warming.

This reflects in the melting of polar ice that leads to rising seawater levels contributing to coastal erosion. Over the past several years, the pattern, incidence and duration of rainfall have changed, making farming challenging and causing food shortages in places hard hit by climate changes.

There is a formula for calculating carbon sequestration efficiency of forests. How well the forest ecosystem absorbs carbon from atmosphere. The approach is to measure the gross primary productivity of the forest and assess the autothrophic respiration which has to do with how trees perform activities as metabolism, respiration and other life processes as production of seeds, flowers or fruits. The gross primary productivity, less the aurothrophic respiration gives the net primary productivity which is an indicator of carbon storage capacity of forests.

A baseline data showing “reduced emissions from degradation and deforestation” is known as the “redd plus” arrangement and it is basis for carbon credit by the United States. D.R Congo with the world’s second largest rainforest secured one hundred million dollars from the United States under this climate change mitigation and adaptation strategy. A global Environmental Monitoring Network also studies how well the forest ecosystem absorbs nutrients, water and carbon from soil as a measure of forest efficiency in climate change adaptation.

The scientists of CSIR-FORIG have placed litter traps  within undergrowth of Borbiri Forest Reserve and Butterfly Sanctuary, to collect falling parts of trees that may fall, such as fruits, flowers, leaves and twigs. Trees that fall or are cut down are also expected to plough back into soil as organic manure. Millipedes, ants and other organisms could be spotted  briskly gnawing to aid decomposition of dead trees. In another dimension, a soil seed bank experiment studies the extent to which a forest is able to  regenerate itself  after disturbances such as logging or tree fall. It is revealed that, whenever seeds in plants fall, and conditions are not favourable for germination, the seeds go into dormancy but are able to germinate when conditions fall in right places. This experiment measures how well trees in Borbiri Forest Reserve and Butterfly Sanctuary are able to rejuvenate naturally through seeds buried in soil.

In the artificial formula, the quest to regenerate plants for landscape restoration was once spearheaded by the Director of CSIR-FORIG, Professor Dr Daniel Ofori and his team, constrained Odum tree specie as object of analysis. They applied biotechnology solutions to reverse that tide, using genetic fingerprinting and clonal function trials on one hundred and thirty three species of the tree assembled from Ghana, Sierra Leone and La Cote d’ ivoire.

Deputy Director General of CSIR-Ghana, Professor Paul Bosu who is an etymologist, the branch of science that study insects dilated on the butterfly sanctuary. He says, “the original idea of giving a facelift to a wooden guest house in Borbiri Forest Reserve was to offer a more convenient place of lodging for researchers to avoid the situation where they commute in journeys without being residential and to retain visitors who may want to stay overnight to hear nocturnal acoustics of animals and other creatures”. He credits pioneer etymologists with  the sanctuary. He says they noticed the huge and diverse butterfly population in the forest and recommended that the butterflies were left in the open. With with time, some were caged for referencing. In the peak rainy season of October when l visited Borbiri Forest Reserve, no butterfly was sighted as the insect is only active in arid, high temperatures.

The CSIR-FORIG boasts universal testing equipment not found in any part of West Africa but in South Africa and Egypt. According to Haruna Seidu of the Wood and Furniture Division, UNIDO had at one time sponsored furniture producers in Ghana to test their designs before indulging in commercial quantities.

A Seed Scientist, Dr Mireku Asamani told me and pointing at a large shelf, he unveiled millions of seeds of trees stored at the National Tree Seeds Centre of CSIR-FORIG.

Indeed, “when the last tree dies, the last man dies”. This is an all encompassing maxim relevant in time before Christ and in the time after death of Christ.

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