Lake Bosumtwe in Ghana’s Ashanti Region is one of the world’s six major meteoric lakes and believed to be around 1.3 million years old. The area is rich in biodiversity including several species endemic to the lake. There is also a major forest reserve and several sacred groves, the latter being are protected by local taboos based on traditional spiritual beliefs or historical events that have impacted on the lives of local people. These traditional management systems protected the sacred groves for centuries and prevented encroachment into these areas.
Lake Bosumtwe also has great cultural significance for the Ashanti people who believe it is the home of their gods. Because of this, motorised boats are not allowed on the lake and only traditional fishing practices are permitted using boats specially carved from single planks of wood about 3×0.5m and driven by small calabash paddles.
Restricting fishing activity in this way has helped conserve the fish species. The most important fish species is the endemic fish Tilapia busumanna, while other species include Galilaeus multifasciatus, T. discolour and T. Zilla. The fish are an important source of food for local communities and to earn an income through sales of excess.
Why does Lake Bosumtwe need conserving?
Due to the influence of western culture and religions, the traditional taboos and beliefs have been steadily eroded. Shifting cultivation has been encroaching into the sacred groves, while there has been increasing pressure on traditional authorities to allow motorized boats on the lake and ‘more efficient’ modern fishing gear. The centuries old traditional system of authority – headed by the chiefs who oversee religious activities, regulation of natural resource use and other aspects of community life – has been threatened. Harvesting rates of the lake’s fish were already exceeding sustainable yields, and this would be worsened if the traditional management regimes collapsed.
Other unsustainable human activities around the lake have caused further environmental degradation. Erosion and lake sedimentation resulted from lands left bare during the follow years of shifting cultivation. Around 90 percent of the original forest cover has been removed, partly caused by collecting fuelwood that provides 80% of people’s energy needs. Remaining forests are threatened by fires set by hunters and shifting cultivators that get out of control. The lake has been polluted by people bathing and washing in the lake, and by rubbish dumped around its shores.
FoE-Ghana projects at Lake Bosumtwe
Conserving Lake Bosumtwe’s flora and fauna
The aim of this four-year project funded by UNDP-GEF was to conserve the globally significant flora and fauna of the lake’s basin by supporting traditional conservation practices and a community based conservation programme with full participation of the 26 local communities in the lake’s basin. There were four components to the project:
1. Community-based Biodiversity Assessment and Monitoring
School children from 24 schools were trained in assessment and monitoring of biodiversity in and around the lake, including water quality monitoring. They were given portable science kits and computers to help collect and store the data. Two manuals on assessment and monitoring protocols were written. The school children met regularly to discuss results and share findings with their communities. The schools also benefited from a programme of local environmental management studies to complement their science studies.
2. Environmental Awareness
Community durbars and audio-visual materials were organised to raise awareness among local communities of the area’s environmental and cultural significance and the threats it faces. The school children also assisted. They formed environmental clubs went out to their communities with environmental outreach programmes, such as drama, to raise awareness of environmental problems. It is estimated that the programme reached 70 percent of the local population.
3. Protection of Traditional Resource Management Systems
The capacity of traditional authorities was built around the environmental and socio-economic implications of a breakdown in the traditional sustainable resource management systems. Community-level volunteer groups were established to help traditional authorities persuade communities to respect and enforce rules and taboos for sustainable resource management and so strengthen the capacity of traditional authorities to maintain their resource management systems. Some 120 hectares of sacred grove were restored and conserved, and a temporary ban on commercial fishing vessels on the lake. The long term aim is a permanent ban.
4. Community-based Natural Resources Management
We build the capacities of communities for sustainable resource management and forest harvesting. These included: community management plans for sustainable resource use in and around sacred groves; buffer-zone development around sacred groves; fisheries management plans; adoption of national regulations on sustainable fish harvesting adapted to local conditions; community tree seedling nurseries and woodlot establishment for sustainable woodfuel source; and sustainable farming such as agroforestry. We established a small revolving seed fund to provide loans to communities for developing sustainable alternative income generating activities. The District Assemblies have discussed a bye-law to support sustainable management practices. The project established: 4 natural resource management plans and 3 community tree seedling nurseries and woodlots. Five communities were using sustainable farming practices by the close of the project, and 24 project communities participated in a workshop to discuss sustainable levels for fishing quotas.
Contributing to the ‘Sustainable Management of Lake Bosumtwe’ project
We maintained contact with the communities over time, and established another project during 2012-2013 to contribute to implementation of the ‘Sustainable Management of Lake Bosumtwe’ project, funded by the Spanish Ministry of Environment, Marine and Rural Affairs. This project encompassed ten objectives including towards improved water quality management, soil and water conservation, sustainable livelihoods, and documentation of local cultures. We focused on two objectives that fitted our previous experience:
- To build capacity, especially at the community level, for the monitoring and protection of the lake and its basin resources
- To enhance public awareness of the importance of water in all human development agendas.
Results and achievements included:
- Twenty-eight environmental clubs with 946 members established in the communities around the Lake
- Ecological and social surveys within the lake basin conducted, resulting in a Watershed Management Plan for the Lake Bosomtwe area
- Three monitoring indicators established for the environmental clubs to measure water quality each month. These indicators are:
- The presence and abundance of benthic macro-invertebrates;
- Water temperature; and
- Water turbidity.
- Guidance materials prepared to help the environmental clubs with their monitoring exercises
- Specimen sheet of benthic macro-invertebrates for identification during monitoring activities
- Two data sheets, one for recording field data and the other for the calculation of the pollution tolerance index
- Training sessions for teachers and environmental club members on the use of the indicators for water quality monitoring
- Basic tools, equipment and protective clothes provided for the environmental club members to continue the water quality monitoring including: thermometers, beakers, funnels, filter papers, magnifying glasses, forceps, sieves, strainers, Petri dishes, disposable medical examination gloves, PVC gloves, Nitrite gloves, buckets, water spoons, hand trowels and Wellington boots
- Two posters designed and 1,400 copies of each distributed to schools and communities in the lake basin. The posters illustrate: “Distribution of the World’s Water” and “The Water Cycle”.
- The leaflet “Lake Bosomtwe: What communities must know” was designed and 2000 copies distributed to schools and communities in the lake basin.
- Awareness raising durbars on the importance of clean water for people’s welfare and livelihoods were undertaken in 20 communities in the lake basin.
The environmental clubs continue to monitor the lake and gather data for analysis to share with FoE-Ghana. The environmental clubs continue to raise awareness within their communities about the importance of sustainable resource use, pollution reduction (not bathing or washing in the lake, careful disposal of rubbish etc) and careful use of the area’s fish and forest resources. Canoes are still in use on the lake and motor boats are banned.
Resources produced from the two projects