Ghana: Cocoa farmers harness the law to save forests, boost yields (Trust)

November 26, 2018
A translation for this article is available in French

Standing in his yard amongst pecking chickens, Nana Archer shows a certificate from the forestry commission stating that he has planted and registered 30 shade trees.

The 53-year-old farmer lives in Nkwantanum, a cocoa-farming community that straddles a rough dirt road in Ghana’s Central region.

Cocoa grows on lush hills behind his house, and there’s no separation between farm and forest. Much of the area was logged about a decade ago, and the farmers—afraid loggers would return—did not replant timber trees, Mr. Archer says.

This is a common scenario. In some cases, farmers even destroy trees so that loggers won’t come, according to a study by the US-based non-profit Winrock International.

Trees grow naturally on many cocoa farms in Ghana, providing shade for the delicate crop. But shade trees belong to the state, not the farmers, according to Ghanaian forestry law.

Companies pay the government a fee to log the timber, and farmers lose out because their crops are often damaged in the process and become less productive under full sun.

Government officials and the World Cocoa Foundation, an industry group, are promoting a policy to grant farmers ownership of timber trees on cocoa farms to help boost yields and curb deforestation.

Farmers can register ownership of timber trees they have planted themselves. This little-known provision in the forestry law is not new, but was recently tested by a pilot project supported by the World Cocoa Foundation.

Alex Tweneboa-Kodna is the forestry commission manager in Asankragua, the capital of Amenfi West district. He says, “We are educating farmers about their rights. They didn’t know this was possible.”

The pilot project has helped 150 farmers register ownership of timber trees on their farms and is hoping to spread the practice.

According to the government, cocoa farming has been a major driver of deforestation in Ghana. When farms become unproductive because trees are old or unhealthy, farmers typically clear new forests for planting.

The Winrock study showed that replanting timber trees on cocoa farms could help rebuild forest cover and reduce pressure for further deforestation by boosting yields. There is hope that farmers could earn extra income from logging.

But there are still issues to work out.

So far, farmers can only register trees they have planted. But advocates are pressuring the government to apply the law to naturally growing trees. Farmers also need the landowners’ approval to register their trees, which can sometimes be difficult to secure.

Mr. Archer says that if loggers return to his area, he will show them his certificate to prevent them from cutting his trees.

This story was adapted from an article titled “Ghana cocoa farmers harness the law to save forests, boost yields,” which was originally published by Thomson Reuters Foundation. To read the full story, go to: http://news.trust.org/item/20180905112609-sji7y/

Photo: Cocoa farmer Wilson Archer poses for a photo with his tree tenure certificate in Nkwantanum, Ghana, June 27, 2018. Credit: Thomson Reuters Foundation / Nellie Peyton