Elizabeth Ohene: Green land of our birth
I don’t recall a happier day in my recent memory in Ghana than last Friday, the Green Ghana day. This was the day that we were all urged to go out and plant a tree.
Since I came back to Ghana 20 years ago and to the realisation that the reality of our country was very different from what was in the Geography books, this was the most successful attempt at doing something to reverse the catastrophic degradation of our lands.
Five million seedlings were made available by the Ministry of Lands and Mineral Resources for us to plant, and there was a joyful atmosphere that I hadn’t noticed for a long time.
It might well be that enough Ghanaians had noticed that the one thing that needed our attention more than anything else was the state of the land mass that we call Ghana.
Far more than any potholed road, any dilapidated school, any hospital without beds or any schoolchildren without computers and I daresay, even the worst of any rampaging virus, what we should all get and remain agitated about is the state of our land, the land that had lost its forest cover, the rivers that are drying up, what used to be a wet month of May turning out hot and totally dry.
I haven’t taken a look at the Geography textbooks that are being used in our schools today, but I do know that the characteristics of the land mass of Ghana in the books I used at school certainly do not look like present day Ghana.
We still talk about dense tropical forests, but that is not the reality of our lands. We still talk about wild animals, but they had been hunted down and their habitats taken over long ago.
The dense tropical forests and wild animals now exist only as part of our language and not part of our reality.
Even what we thought were forest reserves have been shown to have been hollowed out in the search for gold and other minerals.
Maybe our reality got through to most of us, and I am hoping that those who did not take part had very good reasons not to have done so.
To my mind, if anyone or group of people need to be named and shamed in today’s Ghana, it is those who did not bother to go and get a seedling and plant last Friday.
If you see it fit to comment on anything and everything, on things that are going wrong, on unpaved roads, on Free SHS, on the rate of borrowing, on the absence of street lights and even on Supreme Court rulings, and you did not plant a tree last Friday, you should be ashamed of yourself, even if you are not named and shamed publicly.
I would suggest though that it is not too late to redeem yourself if you happen to fall in this category.
Planting seedlings and having them grow into the beautiful and majestic trees that we need to cover our land is a long term undertaking. Having planted the seedlings, they need to be tended and nurtured, and it takes time and hard work.
Last Friday, it rained in Accra, (and I hear in many other parts of the country) which was enough to make a believer of me, considering how dry it had been.
The seedlings need to be watered regularly if the rains don’t come. Under normal circumstances, a better date couldn’t have been chosen than June 11 for the mass planting, but things aren’t what they used to be with our weather and our land and therefore the seedlings might need more care than they otherwise would have needed.
If you missed planting last Friday, you can still plant one or two, and you can certainly help look after those that have been planted.
Cutting down a tree takes so little time, but growing a tree to full maturity to attain its regal and intimidating status takes years.
If we are to restore this land of ours to the ‘dense tropical forest’ described in the Geography books and in the songs of our festivals, then, as President Akufo-Addo said, Greening Ghana will have to become a regular and integral part of our activities.
That presupposes, of course, that we shall stop degrading the lands in the first place, give them some breathing space to rejuvenate and then when we plant, the trees can grow in peace.
I probably also have to declare an interest here. I am a child of the forest, I was born in a forest area, even though the place no longer qualifies as a forest area.
I adore trees, there is nothing that can replace the experience of an afternoon heavy rainfall in a thick forest and the sweet smell that arises from the soil after the rain.
Every child must have the opportunity to experience it and to look up and around trees that are older than their great-grandparents.
Another personal declaration of interest is that one of my very favourite people in this world is the Minister for Lands and Mineral Resources, Samuel Abu Jinapor, the Honourable Member of Parliament for Damongo.
Once upon a time when you were appointed a Minister of Mineral Resources, it was a beautiful job, now you are dealing with the degradation of lands, the pollution of rivers and having to burn excavators.
I want Ghana to be returned to a land of thick forests, majestic trees, clean and beautiful rivers and I want it to happen under the tenure of Minister Abu Jinapor.
I couldn’t quite decide what to make of him in that Rangers uniform last Friday, but I could certainly see the amount of hard work that had gone into the planning and execution of the project. I am wishing him well, and I am hoping that every one of the seedlings that was planted last Friday survives and thrives.