Welcome to Ghana!

Ghana is geographically closer to the “center” of the world than any other country. The Prime Meridian passes through Ghana and the country is also just a few degrees north of the equator.

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Ghana is located in Western Africa and sits on the Gulf of Guinea right in between the countries Cote D’Ivoire and Togo. The Prime Meridian – or 0˚ Longitude – which divides the Earth into the East and West Hemispheres passes through Ghana, and it’s just a few degrees north of the Equator. This makes Ghana closer to the “center” of the world than any other country! Being that close to the equator gives Ghana a hot, tropical climate and creates a perfect environment for a rainforest to grow. Ghana has very diverse plant and animal populations, including close to 300 bird species, over 100 different mammal, reptile and amphibian species, and at least 600 butterfly species!

The official language of Ghana is English, though most Ghanaians also speak at least one of the 47 local languages.

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Ghana – a country the size of the state of Oregon! While the official language is English, most Ghanaians speak at least one local language as well. There are 6 main ethnic groups in Ghana - the Akan (Ashanti and Fanti), the Ewe, the Ga-Adangbe, the Mole-Dagbani, the Guan, and the Gurma. The different languages are based upon the main language of each ethnic group. As you can see, Ghana has a very diverse human population as well!

The rainforests of Ghana provide food and shelter to many unique animals.

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Ghana’s tropical temperatures and heavy rainfall make it an ideal place for a rainforest to flourish! The southern third of the country is very forested, with the thickest rainforest in the southwestern region. The rainy season lasts from March to November in this part of the country, with an average rainfall of 63 inches a year (that’s over 5 feet of rain)! The tropical temperatures combined with the heavy rainfall creates a rich soil that allows for the many different trees to grow. These trees provide shelter, food, and protection for all of the animals who call the rainforest their home.

Leopards like to hide among the trees and grasses of the forest.

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The “big cats”, such as the leopard, are the top predators in most forests of the world. Its powerful body is about five feet long and its tail adds another three feet! These solitary cats can be found both in Ghana’s rainforest as well as within the grassland. Leopards are nocturnal, hunting at night and sleeping in the sun But, it is thought that leopards in the rainforest are actually crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk, when their prey is active.. They are the most successful hunters of the cat family. Once they catch their dinner, the leopard will drag it up into a tree for safekeeping – even with a kill three times its weight like a gazelle! Sadly, leopards are endangered despite the legal protection they receive throughout most of their range.

This warthog uses its tusks for digging and protection against predators.

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The warthogs most common predators are the “big cats”, especially lions and leopards. They prefer to live in wooded savannahs and open grasslands where they can graze on the vegetation and dig with their tusks for roots and tubers. They have very poor eyesight though and depend on the warning cry of birds to alert them to flee from predators. In return these birds often feed on the parasites that live on warthogs, which helps free the warthog from parasites. This kind of relationship is called mutualism – both animals benefit from their interaction with the other.

This forest elephant is a herbivore and eats leaves, fruit, and bark.

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African elephants can be found in the savannah and forest regions of Ghana. The elephants that live in the forests are often smaller and darker colored than those on the savannah. Occasionally forest elephants will trample a portion of the forest. When this happens sunlight comes in through the break in the thick canopy allowing for underbrush, herbs, and creepers to grow. Animals, such as the bongo, depend on areas like this to survive.

This bongo depends on the forest elephant to create breaks in the canopy.

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The bongo is similar to a gazelle and is one of the few large herbivores that live in this dense forested areas. It depends on these breaks in the canopy to provide underbrush for food and shelter. Each animal plays its own role in the life of the rainforest. If there were no longer forest elephants, the bongo would suffer too. Without the bongo, the leopard would lose one of its food sources and also be in danger. There is a balance within a rainforest where each species contributes to the life of another. We need to protect these forests and preserve this balance before its too late!

This silk cotton tree, also known as the kapok tree, is one of the largest trees in Western Africa and is considered to be sacred. It grows over 80 feet high.

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In the evergreen and semi-deciduous forests of southern Ghana there are many tall prominent trees, such as the silk cotton tree on this slide. Many valuable woods come from these African forests. Have you ever heard of mahogany or ebony? Both of these are trees found throughout southern Ghana along with the wawa, odum, and kola trees. In northern Ghana, dotted throughout the savannah, you can find acacia, shea trees, and the great baobab tree. The trees found in Ghana are used for food, shelter, and medicinal purposes. Some, such as the silk cotton tree, are even used to make clothes! They provide shelter and food for many of the animals as well. As these valuable trees are cut down to be sold for timber, both the animals and the people surrounding those trees feel the loss.

There are markets that sell fruits and vegetables all along the roadside.

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These forests are also a source of food for Ghanaians. Can you imagine walking in your backyard and being able to pick a mango or banana? Here the people depend on the forest to do just that. You can find papaya, coconut, plantains, yams, pineapple and much more throughout Ghana’s forests. Families harvest fruit and vegetables to feed themselves and to sell at roadside stands and markets.

Fufu is a very common food in Ghana made from cassava and yams. It is a thick doughy paste that is often served along side soup and used for dipping like bread.

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The majority of meals in Ghana are stews or soups, usually made with onions, chili peppers and tomatoes. Fufu (seen here) is a very common dish in Ghana. It is made by pounding boiled cassava [also called yuca or manioc – it is a starchy root vegetable] and yams until they form a dough-like consistency. Then it is dipped into the soup and used like bread to soak up the soup. For dessert or a snack, kelewele is a common treat. Called hot plantain crisps in English, Kelewele is sliced or cubed plantains that are seasoned with ginger, cayenne pepper, and salt then fried lightly in palm oil.

Worldwide, Ghana is the second largest producer of cocoa. It’s neighbor, Côte d’Ivoire, is the largest. Cocoa is used to make chocolate!

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Cocoa trees are originally from the tropical rainforests of Central America and northern South America. However, the cocoa tree was brought to West Africa in the late 1800’s. The tree flourished in West Africa’s rich, tropical rainforest and the Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are now the top two cocoa producers in the world!

As much as 93% of forests in Ghana have been cut down to make room for villages and agriculture.

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A majority of Ghana’s rich forested land has been cleared, in fact as much as 93% has been cut down! Sometimes the land is cleared for the valuable trees we mentioned, like mahogany and ebony, that grow in the forest of Ghana. Mahogany is often used to make furniture, while ebony is used to make decorative figurines. Ebony is also traditionally used to make the black keys on a piano, as well as the black pieces in a chess set. Land is also cleared to plant oranges, bananas, and other cash crops. While many need the money gained from clearing land to support their family, there are alternatives to cutting down the forest. After all, the forest provides these villages with much more than just timber. What are some of the other things the forest provides?

But, cacao trees grow best under the shade of other tall rainforest trees. This means the forest does not need to be cleared to plant them.

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Cacao trees are meant to grow in the shade of taller trees within a rainforest. This means that farmers are able to support their family and still preserve the forest around them! By growing cocoa under the shade of taller trees, Ghanaians will be able to save what’s left of their rainforest. They will still be able to obtain food, fuel, and medicine from the forest, while protecting the many plants and animals that live there.

Most of the cocoa farms in Ghana are small and family owned. When harvest season begins, the entire family, their friends and neighbors help collect the colorful pods.

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The main cocoa harvesting season is from September to December. The farmers know when the pods are ready to be collected because they change from green to a dark yellow or orange color. Since most of the cocoa grown in Ghana comes from small farms less than 3 hectares big (approximately 6 American football fields), farmers depend on family, friends, and neighbors to assist in the harvest. Yellow pods have to be carefully cut down from high branches using a knife attached to a long pole, while avoiding the nearby flowers and buds. Each cacao tree produces only 20-30 pods a year. Each pod contains 20-40 beans, and it takes 400 beans to make a pound of chocolate! That means each tree produces only 1-3 lbs of chocolate a year.

The woman in this picture is drying cocoa beans in the sun. You can tell when cocoa beans are fully dry because they crackle when rubbed together in your hand.

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After the pods are collected, they are cracked in half and the seeds are removed. At first the seeds are wet and covered in a white pulp. They are spread out on plantain leaves on the ground, then covered up by more plantain leaves. This process – called fermentation – drains the white pulp away and helps create the chocolate flavor within the bean! Next, as you see here, the seeds are placed on bamboo mats on tables and set in the sun to dry. If you look at the picture you can see the woman is spreading the seeds around, this helps make sure everything dries evenly. After 7-10 days in hot sunny weather, the seeds should be dry. Just rub them together in your hand, and if they crackle – they are dry!

These farmers are learning how to grow their chocolate in a way that doesn’t harm the rainforest.

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These farmers are learning how to grow their chocolate trees under the shade of the rainforest. If every farmer in Ghana could learn how to do this, we might be able to save what is left of the rainforest! Farming in a way that supports the forest is also beneficial for the farmer. They are still able to gather fresh fruits from the rainforest, as well as use the trees nearby for food, fuel, shelter, medicine, and even clothing!

The students in Ghana are learning about protecting their environment. What can you do at home and in school to help?

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These students have seen first hand both the beauty and destruction of Ghana’s rainforest. By learning how to protect the land they live on they are helping to protect their sacred rainforest for themselves and future generations. There are things you can do from home and school, all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, to help save rainforests all around the world – and in Ghana. Can you think of some ways you can help defend Ghana’s rainforests?