Why is Ghana counting every tree?

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By Chika Oduah

The government of Ghana is on a mission to register every shade tree planted on farms which grow the West African country’s most economically important crop, cocoa.

What’s the reason behind such an ambitious venture? It’s to protect farms from deforestation in the supply chain of Ghana’s $2billion a year cocoa industry, which is expected to produce more than one million tonnes of cocoa at the end of the 2018-2019 season to meet the rising global demand for chocolate.

The tree registration pilot was developed in partnership with Ghana’s Forestry Commission and the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources by a consortium comprised of World Cocoa Foundation, Sustainable Food Lab, Agro Eco- Louis Bolk Institute and Meridia, uses affordable digital technology to gather data on 150 farms in Ghana’s Western Region and to create registration forms.  The system is expected to roll out nationwide, specifically targeting the forest zones, and could go a long way to supporting diversified sources of income for cocoa farmers.

Speaking at the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 General Assembly held in Accra, Ghana, Abraham Otabil, the public relations officer for Ghana’s Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, explained the benefits of the new initiative: “So basically, we plant these trees, one for easy identification and to avoid illegal miners and others from cutting down those trees.  Year by year, we say we will plant one million trees… but we don’t have the statistics. This will help us to have this data to inform policy and decision-making.”

In the past few years, the government of Ghana has promoted plans to plant millions of trees, but many farmers have been wary of doing so –  partly because under existing land tenure agreements, they were not allowed to harvest from the non-cocoa trees they planted on their farms.

The existing agreements are explained by the World Agroforestry Centre: “If a tree grows naturally on a farmer’s land, the farmer does not own it. So, the government can issue contracts to logging companies to fell the trees; often farmers are not compensated for crop damage that results from felling operations. Even when trees are planted by the farmer, and they should have legal rights to them, the challenging procedures of tree registration had meant that farmers fail to register their trees. Consequently, they miss out on benefits derived from [those] trees.”

Rosemary Addico of the Dutch civil society organization, Solidaridad, attended the three-day Accra General Assembly and spoke on the urgent need for land ownership to be resolved and streamlined to benefit farmers, many of whom are migrants. “They don’t really own the land, so before they invest in that land they should be ensured that they will get some benefit,” Addico said.

“It’s very, very important because we have a lot of farmers who are not really farming on [land they own]. They have leased the land, so for them to invest in it, they really need to get land tenure if you really want to have this tree registry to be very effective. First, we need to look at the land tenure system and then we can encourage them to plant trees. Once we register the trees, we need to really let them.”

The consortium’s tree registration system addresses the thorny land tenure issues, paving the way for farmers to actually own the trees planted on their farmers so that they can benefit from agroforestry and reforestation while preserving the productivity of their farms. Ensuring tree tenure is seen as a way to curb illegal mining.

Speaking at the same conference, Ghana’s Minister of Environment, Science and Technology, Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng highlighted the widespread impact of illegal mining on the country’s natural environment. “Since 2010, illegal mining has contributed to the loss of 50% of forests and 45% of farmland,” the minister stated.

But illegal mining is not the only source of land degradation and misuse. Ghana has lost about 80% of its forest resources under state management since 1990 due to slash and burn agricultural practices, population expansion and mining, according to the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources.

Farmers are reported to collude with illegal loggers, particularly chainsaw operators, to harvest timber trees for financial gains, effectively not just removing a natural safeguard against fire and flooding -but also the shade necessary for the delicate cocoa plants to thrive. The tree which originates from the Amazon, grows best under the forest canopy cover.

West Africa’s smallholder cocoa farmers, who grow 70% of the world’s cocoa beans often struggle to eek out a living due to fluctuating prices, expensive agricultural inputs, lack of access to markets, storage or transport as well as aging trees and climate change. As such, the potential economic gains from intercropping with different tree species is enormous.

Now that efforts are moving forward to ensure that farmers can own the trees they plant on their cocoa farms, the benefits of the tree registration system are easy to see: farmers can employ young people to help plant more trees; planting selected tree species will enhance the biodiversity which will in turn contribute to a healthy cocoa agrosystem. The farmers can monitor their non-cocoa shade trees and in the government will get closer to its reforestation target. In short, it’s a win-win for all.

 

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