Some of the world’s last remaining forest elephants and leopards roam what is left of Ghana’s highly degraded and fragmented forests. And while the need to protect these dwindling areas is undeniable, the relationship between local communities and the forests is fraught with challenges.
Ghanaian citizens lack even the most basic ownership rights when it comes to their forests; the government owns all native trees. As a result, farmers are often compelled to remove the trees that dot their land — a preemptive measure to avoid possible incursion on their farms by government-authorised loggers.
Mindful of these major conservation disincentives, the Rainforest Alliance set out to find a way to work with local farmers to restore forest cover, improve livelihoods and mitigate climate change. The natural starting point: cocoa, a crop that forms the basis of many local incomes.
A Sweeter Future for Cocoa Farmers
In Ghana, we began our work in Bia-Juabeso in the country’s Western region where we will eventually introduce 36 cocoa-farming communities located on over 60,000 acres (27,000 hectares) to standards for socially, environmentally and economically sound management. By learning to farm responsibly and establish additional sustainable income streams, farmers will increase their earnings while restoring forest cover and mitigating climate change.
For all involved, it’s been a challenging and rewarding process. To date, 1,200 cocoa farmers managing 7,400 acres (3,000 hectares) have been trained in sustainable agricultural methods and an additional 2,000 farmers will be trained by the end of June 2012. Once these farmers earn the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal, they’ll have access to premium prices and preferred markets. Their certified farmland will also be a boon for the environment, since shaded cocoa holds more than twice the carbon volume of non shaded cocoa and well-managed farms house important biodiversity.
Central to our work in Bia-Juabeso is the organisation of community producer groups, which have joined forces to form a Landscape Management Board. Through the board, communities are gaining a stronger political voice, better bargaining power and greater marketing ability. The board also provides a vehicle for planning and coordinating local conservation and production activities.
We’re also working to increase incomes by offering training workshops on beekeeping and hive construction. Community members have established four small beekeeping cooperatives to take advantage of the strong local markets for honey, propolis, pollen and beeswax. This added income will be important during the “lean times” between cocoa harvests. The bees are also key pollinators for cocoa and other wild plants in the landscape.
Setting the Stage for REDD+
By focusing on sustainable landscape management in Ghana, we’ve set the stage for the development of local REDD+ (reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation plus co-benefits like biodiversity conservation) projects. Through these projects, community members receive payment for the carbon stored on their farms and can be an integral part of climate change mitigation efforts. REDD+ payments will also provide an incentive for locals to keep native trees standing, plant trees in areas that have been degraded and invest in best management practices.
Full-scale REDD+ projects are still in the beginning stages. Before these can truly take off, the Rainforest Alliance will support efforts to educate key partners about REDD+ and the value of forest carbon in different markets, and test methodologies and standards for piloting REDD+ projects to ensure that carbon stock estimates are sound and social and environmental safeguards are in place. Most importantly, we will work with local and national authorities and leaders to put in place clear rules that, together with the results of our field-level activities, will become part of the road map for REDD+ initiatives in Ghana.
There’s a long road ahead, but we’re confident that we’re moving in the right direction. Communities in Ghana will soon be earning a higher, more sustainable income from their land and will be ready to contribute to global climate change mitigation efforts that also benefit their local environment.