Christian Baidoo was still a student when villagers from his community, Assorku Essaman, decided to chop down an ancient Brokofi tree, believing it harboured witches, incarnate in owls that were bringing misfortune to the village.
“Such trees actually need to be protected. I see people in this community don’t give such relevance to trees. They don’t see the importance of trees,” says Baidoo, noting the Brokofi tree can grow for hundreds of years and its trunk can be as wide as five feet.
“I think trees also have a legacy and we need to protect them,” he says.
Twenty years after the historic tree was felled, Baidoo, now a reporter and presenter at Skyy Power FM in Takoradi, has made it his personal mission to make people aware about the environmental impacts of their actions.
“It’s all about education,” he says.
Since becoming a journalist, Baidoo has always focussed on human rights and social justice issues, knowing he was “saving lives with those stories.” But it hasn’t always been easy when media houses lack the resources needed to pursue the stories that count. Baidoo has had to sacrifice his own time and money, devoting his weekends to bringing stories from his home community and other rural villages to public attention.
“If we are able to highlight some of these things and people are aware that when they do this, they are going to be showcased in the public, it’s going to be brought into the limelight what they are doing, it will be some sort of disgrace to them and they will rescind their decision.”
That’s even more important now than ever before in the “Oil City” where the environment has long been left out of the discussion about oil development.
Along the shores of Shama, Baidoo points out large rifts of sand several feet deep that reveal Western Region’s changing coastline. Human activities, like sand winning and construction of sea walls have hastened the erosion of a beach line that today is several hundred metres from where it was only several decades ago. Adding to the problem is climate change, which is causing sea levels to rise.
“Even last year, the river came into people’s houses and some of their houses are broken down, some are collapsed and they’re now building new ones,” says Patience Amusa from Shama Beach.
Kennedy Amegah, a fisherman, is concerned about the environmental degradation he’s witnessed on the coast, but when Baidoo asks him, he says he has never heard of climate change.
“A lot of these fishermen are losing their livelihoods because a lot of them have their businesses located right at the shoreline where people smoke fish, where people mend their canoes. All these places are being overtaken by the sea,” says Baidoo. By some estimates, the whole village may have to re-locate in less than five years.
Ghana’s emerging oil industry comes complete with a whole new set of environmental concerns that could affect the natural ecology and life on the coast. Baidoo says the country is not prepared to deal with the environmental impacts of developing the industry.
“The government has been convinced to believe that soon crude prices are going to fall very, very low and that even if you have crude it’s not going to be of any importance, so even if we are not ready with the institutions to check pollution or have structures put in place to be sure we are getting the desired benefits we should just go ahead for it because of the fact crude oil prices could fall in the near future,” says Baidoo.
“And I think it’s a very bad decision,” he adds. “Ghana’s is also striving to develop industrially. There’s no rush. I believe we could have waited until we put all the necessary structures in place.”
Baidoo will continue to write stories about the environment on the coast and oil’s impact. He also has plans to adopt three daughter Brokofi trees, so that he can protect them from the same fate as their mother.
“I think that with my little voice I can make some impact,” he says.