Community sacred forest in the Effutu traditional area, Central region, Ghana



  • A Rocha Ghana


  • 25/08/2016

  • REGION :

  • Western Africa


  • Ghana (Central Region)


  • In recent times, the implementation of traditional natural resource management and conservation methods has declined because of various factors, including weak traditional regulations, increasing population, and adoption of Western lifestyles. In Ghana, the implementation of policy directives and frameworks has resulted in certain areas currently being managed by communities, notably the Community Resource Management Areas framework, which demarcates an area for the protection of wildlife resources. An example is the community sacred forest in the Effutu traditional area. Interestingly, for the preservation of cultural heritage, the Effutu traditional area has over the last 300 years been designated a forest reserve for the protection of bushbuck for an annual hunt to celebrate the Aboakyir festival. However, currently, because of weak implementation of regulations and anthropogenic activities, resources at the designated hunting ground have dwindled, in particular, the continuous presence of bushbuck for the annual hunt. The “Restoration of Community Sacred Forest to Enhance Socio Ecological Landscape in the Effutu Traditional Area, Ghana” project therefore aimed to restore the ecological integrity of the site to enhance biodiversity conservation while preserving the cultural heritage of the Effutu people. This study highlights the significance of collaborative engagement as a tool for revitalizing and conserving threatened socio-ecological production landscapes. Using conservation education to ignite behavioral change in favor of natural resource conservation, 5.43 ha of degraded area was replanted, and the income levels of community members enhanced, thereby reducing their dependency on the forest for their livelihood. A fauna survey confirmed the presence of bushbuck, although the population is estimated to be very low.


  • Aboakyir festival, Bushbuck, Biodiversity, Cultural heritage, Effutu traditional area


  • Jacqueline Kumadoh, A Rocha Ghana

  • LINK:


Summary Sheet

The summary sheet for this case study is available here.

Natural and social background

[Note: this case study was originally published in the publication “Socio-ecological Production Landscapes and Seascapes (SEPLS) in Africa“]

The Effutu traditional area with its paramount seat located in Winneba in the Central Region of Ghana lies on 5° 20′ N 0° 37′ W and covers an area approximately 417.3 km2. The area lies west of Accra (the capital city of Ghana) and east of the Cape Coast (Central Regional Capital). The southern boundary follows the shoreline of the sea (Gulf of Guinea), and part of the western boundary follows the adjacent Yenku forest reserve. As a Municipality, it is bordered to the north, north east, south, and east by Agona Municipality, West Akim Municipality, the Gulf of Guinea, the Gomoa District, and the Gomoa District, respectively.

Geographically, the Effutu traditional area is low-lying with protruding granite rocks and isolated hills around Winneba. The area lies within the dry equatorial climatic zone characterized by low rainfall and a long dry season of five months. The annual rainfall ranges between 400–500 mm, and the temperature ranges between 22 ºC–28 ºC. The vegetation type can be classified as coastal savannah grassland, which is suitable for vegetable cultivation or dry season irrigation farming. However, the soils are dominated by highly saline clay; hence, limited agricultural activities are practiced in the area.

Figure 1: Map showing the location of the Effutu traditional area. Source: Wildlife Division, Winneba

According to the Effutu Municipal Assembly records, the population of Winneba and its communities was estimated at 60,331 individuals in 2012. Fishing and fish mongering are the predominant occupation of locals, being practiced by 54% and 46% of the population, respectively. The dependence on the surrounding ecosystem is also high, with approximately 40% of people also participating in charcoal production, wood selling, and subsistence farming of maize, vegetables, and other food crops, which are either sold or used for household consumption. The harvesting of trees and mangroves widely used for the smoking of fish and for the sale of fuel wood has led to a dwindling quantity and quality of biodiversity found in the area. Furthermore, some rivers, which provided other ecosystem services in the locality, have dried up due to the excessive harvesting of trees in the area.

Functions and values of the Effutu community sacred forest

The indigenes of the Effutu traditional area celebrate the annual Aboakyir festival, a thanksgiving festival, which is also known as the “deer hunt festival.” The “deer” are in fact bushbuck that are hunted by local warrior groups known as the “Asafo Company” with designations such as Asafo Company No 1. (Tuafo) and Asafo Company No. 2 (Dentsefo). For the purpose of preserving their cultural heritage, the Effutu traditional area has over the past 300 years established a communal forest reserve covering >80 ha that provides grounds for the live capture of bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus) by the Asafo company (traditional warriors). The captured bushbucks are sacrificed to the gods of the land during the celebration of their annual traditional Aboakyir festival. Depending on which group captures the first bushbuck (Photo 1), this is interpreted to determine whether the year will be one of bountiful harvest or that of famine.

Besides serving as a designated site for the capture of the bushbuck, community members also enjoy fringe benefits provided by the reserve, including the hunting of bush meat, with hunted species including Thryonomys swinderianus (cane rat), Cricetomys gambianus (Gambian pouched rat), Xerus erythropus (striped ground squirrel), Philantomba maxwelii (Maxwell’s duiker), and Oryctolagus cuniculus (European rabbit). Resources include farming and the collection of fuel wood and other non-timber forest products for domestic use, with the surplus sold for income. Communities also harvest trees as building materials for household use. The site also holds some shrines where sacrifices are made to the gods of the land.

Given the cultural significance of the forest as a hunting ground and as a home for their ancestors, the conservation of the forest is essential for the preservation of the cultural heritage of the local population. The festival also provides a source of entertainment for the people and provides an income boost to hospitality centers as well as to women and youth selling food and other items during the festival.

Photo 1: Local warriors with live capture of bushbuck during Aboakyir festival. Photo credit: Ghana News Agency, 2012

Traditionally, over the past 300 years, such sacred forests have been conserved and protected through restricting access and selective resource collection. For instance, in the past, a hunter always had to present a part of the hunted animal to the chief’s palace. This practice was used to keep track of species that were hunted within the area as well as to facilitate the monitoring of population trends. However, over the years, these traditional norms and regulations have been weakened by increasing population, adoption of Western culture, and infiltration of other ‘so-called’ civilized behavior into the communities.

The adoption of other modern conservation practices such as observance of a closed season as stipulated under Ghana Wildlife Reserves Regulations L.I.710 of 1971 has also evolved as a practice to facilitate conservation of the site. Traditional authorities and leaders of the warrior groups have, however, been able to uphold the ban of no entry into the hunting ground two months before the celebration of the festival. During the celebration of the week-long festival, which is climaxed on the morning of the first Saturday in May, the warriors perform certain rituals at dawn before proceeding on the bushbuck hunt, which is conducted with their bare hands, sticks, and clubs (Nketiah, 2011). The first group to return with a live bushbuck is adjudged the winner. Some rituals are then performed with the animal and two ritual items, of a white and red color, respectively. The outcome of which ritual item a thrown dice falls on is used to predict the harvesting season. A white ritual item represents the Tuafo (Asafo Company No. 1) and indicates a bumper fishing season, whereas the red ritual item representing Dentfefo (Asafo Company No. 2) and indicates a bumper farming season. In the event of none of the groups making a catch, the year is declared as one that would experience famine on the land.

Threats and challenges

Despite the range of ecosystem services provided by the community sacred forests for livelihood well-being and ecological sustainability, the site faces several threats and challenges. The underlying causes of biodiversity loss and a dwindling bushbuck population were identified as degrading activities such as charcoal production, bush burning (Photo 2), unsustainable farming practices, and illegal hunting. These have led to an increased depletion of habitat and biodiversity in the forest, thereby negatively impacting the socio-economic and cultural aspects of the lives of the local population (Andrews Agyekumhene, Ramsar site manager, personal communication 2013).

Photo 2: Perennial bush burning of a portion of the sacred forest. Photo credit: Muni Pomadze Ramsar Site, 2012

Furthermore, ignorance by the community of the implications of threats to the resource through anthropogenic activities proximate the site has also been a contributing factor to habitat degradation and biodiversity loss. Recommendations by Wuver and Attuquayefio (2006) and investigations during the project indicate that there is limited awareness of both traditional and modern conservation approaches.

Over the years, although the rate of biodiversity decline has been investigated (Wuver & Attuquayefio 2006), local participation in addressing causes of decline has not been fully explored. Research results during 2006 indicated that the rate of biodiversity decline at the site is increasing due to environmental degradation (Wuver & Attuquayefio 2006). Over the last three years, none of the two warrior groups have captured a live animal for the annual Aboakyir festival. This strongly indicates that the bushbuck population has plummeted and could soon become locally extinct. This has been a matter of great concern to the people regarding the perpetuation of their cultural heritage. It was also observed that the hunting ground, which shares borders with the Yenku forest reserve and the Muni-Pomadze Ramsar site, has in recent times been faced with threats of high levels of poaching and habitat degradation, leading to further loss of biodiversity within the surrounding landscape. The losses can also be attributed to outdated information on current underlying causes of biodiversity losses, inadequate awareness of threats, inadequate alternative livelihood systems, and weak traditional institutions, norms, and laws.

Responses and efforts at revitalization

The “Restoration of Community Sacred Forest to Enhance Socio Ecological Landscape in the Effutu Traditional Area, Ghana” project engaged community members through various collaborative biodiversity conservation initiatives, thereby integrating indigenous traditional knowledge and modern approaches to identify and address direct threats as well as underlying causes responsible for the loss of biological and cultural diversity of the area. The methods employed under the project aimed at revitalizing the sacred forest are outlined in thematic areas below:

Conservation education

Community engagement through consultative fora, conservation education, and public awareness approaches were used to increase awareness of threats and integrated approaches at the community and stakeholder levels. This was achieved through participatory planning, knowledge sharing, and capacity building, thus contributing to achieving Aichi target 1 and 18 (CBD 2012). Conservation education was held in 10 schools and seven communities. Radio broadcasts were held once monthly on two radio stations, one station using a local dialect and one using English, thereby ensuring that the conservation message extended beyond the project area. The awareness campaigns also created opportunities to promote the integration of indigenous traditional knowledge and modern conservation practices within the lifestyle of community members. The public awareness campaigns raised the awareness of over 10,000 people in the area using the various media. This is yielding evidence of a change in attitude among fringe community members who are now more receptive to conservation initiatives and are more willing to undertake initiatives such as tree planting on their farms near the sacred forest. The education on conservation contributed to enhancing local participation in biodiversity conservation, thus leading to a reduction in direct pressures leading to biodiversity loss, while also promoting sustainable resource utilization. The achievement of this objective is contributing to achieving Aichi Target 5 (CBD 2012) and the International Partnership for the Satoyama Initiative (IPSI) objective 2 (Satoyama 2013).

Photo 3: Radio broadcast with leaders of local warrior groups. Photo credit: A Rocha, 2015

Faunal survey

Sightings, collections of animal scats, and hunter survey were the methods employed to collect data during the survey. Observations of animal signs such as tracks were very scattered and limited due to the highly degraded nature of the site. During the field survey, five footprints of bushbuck were recorded around watering holes. Two bushbucks were sighted within the thickets, and six droppings were recorded, two of which were along footpaths. The results of the interviews showed that hunters encountered less bushbucks within the site. One hunter reported having encountered a family of six bushbucks during the 2014 rainy season. Other animals encountered according to the hunter interviews included Thryonomys swinderianus (greater cane rat), Cricetomys gambianus (Gambian Pouched Rat), Xerus erythropus (striped ground squirrel), Philantomba maxwellii (Maxwell’s Duiker), Oryctolagus cuniculus (European rabbit), Python regius (ball python), and Pelusios castaneus (West African mud turtle) along the river, and Varanus niloticus (Nile monitor). The results of both the survey and the interviews revealed signs of the presence of bushbucks in the area. However, the population size could not be determined as the survey was not able to collect sufficient data to make concrete conclusions. More efforts would, therefore, have to be made to secure the site and restore its vegetation as well as to conduct more surveys in the future.

Habitat restoration

In collaboration with community members and the Asafo Company (local warrior groups), the hunting grounds were demarcated and planted with 4,000 seedlings covering an area of 5.43 ha (Photos 4 and 5). Ten individual community members were trained in nursery establishment and management as an income earning occupation. Some of the seedlings for the planting were purchased from the community members and supplemented with supplies from the Forestry Services Division. Assorted indigenous tree seedlings, including Acacia and Mahogany, were planted to mimic the natural forest. The planting will contribute to restoration of the degraded ecological zone. This will not only enhance the ecological integrity of the communal forest landscape but also stabilize and potentially increase the population of bushbucks, which are hunted live by the Effutu people during their annual Aboakyir festival. The achievement of this objective will also promote the continuous perpetuation of the rich culture of the Effutu people while providing jobs for local guides and alternative income for the locals who sell food items and other artifacts during the festival. The restoration of the habitat will also contribute to achieving Aichi Target 12 and 15 (CBD 2012). Over the project period, due to the high risk of fires, the site was managed to prevent bush fires. A firebreak was created for this purpose, and this has prevented the land area planted under the project from being destroyed by two bush fires that have occurred in the area.

Photo 4: Community planting session. Photo credit: A Rocha Ghana, 2015

Photo 5: Wildlife Officer with local warrior representative during a tree planting exercise. Photo credit: A Rocha Ghana, 2015

Alternative livelihood

The project as part of its objectives aimed to enhance the income levels of fringe communities through alternative livelihoods. Therefore, 15 community members were trained in making soap (Photos 6 and 7). Initially, briquette production from agricultural waste was proposed. However, a major challenge faced during the project was the failure of rains during the 2015 rainy seasons. This affected the proposed training of community members in producing briquette charcoal. This was addressed by resorting to an alternative to the originally proposed activity but yielding the same outcome. The 15 community members chosen were comprised of 13 women and two men, and were trained in soap making, which has increased their monthly family income by 20%.

Photo 6: Demonstration during training on soap making. Photo credit: A Rocha Ghana, 2015

Photo 7: Beneficiairies with finished products. Photo credit: A Rocha Ghana, 2015

Lessons learnt

The project activities conducted are envisaged to restore the degraded habitat and safeguard the dwindling biodiversity to avoid overharvesting of resources from the adjacent Ramsar site and Yenku forest reserve. The activities led to strengthening of traditional conservation norms that 1) affords chiefs and traditional heads the power to punish offenders; 2) increased awareness, leading to behavioral change; 3) reduced habitat degrading activities and illegal poaching, thereby contributing to the achievement of Aichi target 1(CBD 2012) and IPSI objective 2 (Satoyama 2013).

One important lesson through this project is that if communities are well informed and empowered, they can take steps to protect their environment. Institutional collaboration is also an essential tool when building synergies. In the past, communities and governmental bodies in charge of resource management worked in isolation. However, collaborative efforts through projects such as the Satoyama Development Mechanism have broadened the opportunities to bridge the gaps between conservation and community development.

Furthermore, the project responded to the critical needs of the target area by raising awareness of impacts of anthropogenic activities on the biodiversity and ecosystem services of the community sacred forest, and its ripple effect on the socio-economic and cultural lifestyle of the Effutu people. Replanting degraded portions of the hunting ground under the project will contribute to safeguarding the ecological integrity of the site, with the long-term impact of creating a secure habitat for bushbuck and the perpetuation of the cultural heritage of the Effutu people. Again, the project through its alternative livelihood training is contributing to eradication of poverty in the area, a reason often given to justify overexploitation of resources.

In general, the impacts of the project in an environmental context centers on the replanting of degraded areas, which would in the long-term provide a secure habitat for biodiversity in the area. Socio-economically, communities have been empowered to take better care of their environment and to utilize resources sustainably. The training of beneficiaries in alternative livelihoods has also contributed to increasing income levels. Ultimately, the restoration of the site would promote the cultural heritage of the inhabitants and provide opportunities for community development through tourism activities. Efforts to gazette by-laws by the district assembly to enhance law enforcement as well as promote conservation efforts through an integration of both modern conservation techniques and indigenous traditional knowledge are laudable. By responding to these critical needs, the project contributes to Aichi target 1, 14, 15, and 18, which are all expected to be achieved in the year 2020 (CBD 2012).


Attuquayefio, DK & Fobil, JN 2005, ‘An overview of biodiversity conservation in Ghana: Challenges and prospects’, West Africa Journal of Applied Ecology, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 1-18.

CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity) 2012, Technical rationale (and quick guides), Viewed 12 April 2016,

Nketiah, ES 2011, Distance forum “a multidisciplinary book of scholarly articles”, Author House Publishers, UK.

Wildlife Division 2000, Wildlife Division policy for collaborative community based wildlife management. Policy Document, Viewed 12 February 2016,

Satoyama Initiative 2013, Strategy for the International Partnership for the Satoyama Initiative. United Nations University Institute for Advanced Study of Sustainability. Viewed 22 February 2016,

Wuver, AM & Attuquayefio, DK 2006, ‘The impact of human activities on biodiversity conservation in a Coastland Wetland in Ghana’, West Africa Journal of Applied Ecology, vol. 9, pp.1-14.