Lizzie Bekoe, Forest Ranger for Ghana’s Forestry Commission, patrolling Apedwa Forest Reserve in Ghana.
FAO/ Asdúbal Calderón
In the eastern region of Ghana, a nation teeming with vibrant and robust ecosystems, sits the Apedwa Forest Reserve. This small 4 km2 expanse of wilderness serves as the heart of biodiversity in the region. At the helm of managing this critical reserve, ensuring its flourishing and safeguarding its inhabitants, is a remarkably passionate woman, Lizzie Bekoe.
Hailing from the town of Segyimase in Eastern Ghana, Lizzie is the fourth among her six siblings. This dynamic 30-year-old woman has been a forest ranger with Ghana’s Forestry Commission for a year now. Her choice of profession was not a random career detour but the manifestation of her lifelong love for nature. "I am in charge of protecting and managing the forest," Lizzie explains. "I chose to become a forest ranger so I could improve and protect our natural resources." Lizzie's role involves patrolling Apedwa and other nearby reserves, In the eastern region of Ghana, a nation teeming with vibrant and robust ecosystems, sits the Apedwa Forest Reserve. This small 4 km2 expanse of wilderness serves as the heart of biodiversity in the region. At the helm of managing this critical reserve, ensuring its flourishing and safeguarding its inhabitants, is a remarkably passionate woman, Lizzie Bekoe.
The forest reserve she protects is a small, yet very important local forest reserve. What's unique is that it represents a small ecozone found only around the Kibi area. The Upland Evergreen forest is a unique ecosystem spanning only 528.4 sq km and teeming with various species of flora and fauna, including commercial tree species such as Odum, Wawa, Ofram, Mahogany, and Kyenkyen. These trees form the leafy umbrellas under which primates, reptiles, antelopes, pangolins, and countless bird species take refuge. The forest's significance extends beyond being a habitat for plants and animals; it's also a vital source of water and medicinal herbs for the surrounding communities like Apedwa, Amangfrom, Akwadum, and Akoto. Apedwa is fully protected from any forest changes and was among 17 forest reserves identified by Ghana in 2022 for inscription into the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Network of Biosphere Reserves.
However, managing this rich biodiversity has its challenges. Insufficient staffing and lack of mobility are significant obstacles for Lizzie and her colleagues. The vast forest area covering Apedwa and other nearby reserves can be tough to patrol without the aid of motorcycles or cars. "There is too much land for one ranger to cover," she admits.
Despite the difficulties, Lizzie's dedication to her mission is unwavering. She envisions a future where the reserve is free from illegal activities like unpermitted logging and farming, which have led to the disappearance of certain species, including monkeys. As a steward of the forest, she has not only committed herself to the protection of the reserve, but she has also embarked on a journey of forest restoration, including establishing plantations to restore the forest and reintroduce lost species.
To aid Lizzie and her colleagues from Ghana’s Forestry Commission in this endeavor, international support has been provided by various partners, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the UN-REDD Programme. In the Apedwa Forest Reserve, FAO and the Forestry Research Institute of Ghana (CSIR-FORIG) have been working with permanent sample plots (PSPs), whose information may be crucial in the design of Ghana’s upcoming National Forest Inventory (NFI). The PSPs are large 100 x 100 m plots of land where all trees more than 10 cm in diameter are measured, identified, and geolocated. The same plots are then regularly visited and analyzed to determine the changes and dynamics of the forest, with periodic visits ranging between one to four years, depending on the site. In addition to tree data, soil samples are taken, along with assessments of deadwood and litter, contributing to a comprehensive understanding of the forest's overall health and evolution.
Apedwa Forest Reserve, Ghana.
Photo Credit: FAO/ Javier García Pérez
These activities are essential as they provide comprehensive data about the forest and its changes over time, including the species present – their numbers, health, and location. This crucial data serves as a foundation for making informed decisions on sustainable forest management, conservation and restoration, including the preparation of strategies and/or reporting on national and international frameworks, such as REDD+.
From left to right, Lizzie Bekoe; Samuel Ayesu, Forestry Commission in Kumasi; Prof. Stephen Adu-Bredu, FORIG; Javier García Pérez, National Forest Inventory Analyst for FAO; and Asdrúbal Calderón, FAO's consultant for Ghana’s National Forest Inventory (NFI) design, in Apedwa Forest Reserve, Ghana.
Photo Credit: FAO/ Asdúbal Calderón
The FAO's involvement in the Apedwa reserve is part of a broader initiative called “Global transformation of forests for people and climate: A focus on West Africa,” funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). This ambitious project, implemented in collaboration with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), aims to protect West Africa's forests, combat climate change, and safeguard the livelihoods of millions who depend on them.
The project focuses on enhancing sub-regional knowledge of forest status and dynamics, assessing forest and land-related laws, policies, and strategies, and promoting community-based sustainable forest and land-use practices. It represents a response to the ongoing threats that forests in West Africa face, such as deforestation and degradation due to unsustainable agricultural expansion and illegal logging.
Lizzie's passion and commitment, along with support from FAO and other organizations, is critical in the fight to preserve the Apedwa Forest Reserve. Through this work, they are protecting the environment and securing a sustainable future for communities that rely on these forests for their livelihood.
FAO remains committed to working with Ghana and other West African countries to assess forest resources, improve sustainable forest management, halt deforestation and combat climate change through forest-based solutions which benefit people and environment. Through partnerships and collaboration between FAO, governments and forest rangers like Lizzie, the Apedwa Forest Reserve will continue to thrive, serving both its local communities and the diverse wildlife it shelters for generations to come.