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Ghana: Farmers begin protecting trees after land degradation affects yield (IPS)

In the scorching Upper East Region of Ghana, the dry seasons are long and, for kilometres, there is nothing but barren, dry earth. In some areas, it is not uncommon for half the female population to migrate southward in search of work, often taking their young children with them.

This area of Ghana has the highest number of impoverished people in the region, according to the 2015 Ghana Poverty Mapping report.

But things are changing in Garu and Tempane districts as the degraded land is slowly being replaced with pockets of lush grass, neem trees, berries, and indigenous fruit.

Ayaaba Atumoce is chief of the Akaratshie community in the Garu and Tempane districts. He explains the bleak situation: “We realized that the long dry spell, bare land, and high temperature of 40 degrees, and the absence of irrigation facilities for farmers to [allow them] to farm year-round … effectively made [farmers] unemployed for the seven-month dry season.”

Mr. Atumoce remembers that, when he was young, much of the area was covered with dense forest. But the forest gradually diminished over time as farmers cut trees to make charcoal for themselves and to sell at regional centres.

The rate at which trees were cut down surpassed the rate at which new trees grew, if they grew at all. Young trees suffered as the land became hard and lacked nutrients.

The rainfall patterns changed too. Mr. Atumoce says that the rainy season starts three months later than it used to. Previously, they began preparing their land in February, aiming to plant when the rains began in late March or early April. But now, planting is pushed to June or July, and the season ends at the same time: around late September or mid-October.

Carl Kojo Fiati is the director of natural resources at Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency. He says that deforestation and bush burning in the Upper East Region has changed the natural cycle of evaporation, condensation, and precipitation. The result is reduced rainfall—and unproductive land.

Communities are hoping to change this situation as farmers restore 250 hectares of land by protecting vegetation and nurturing trees and shrubs.

Mr. Fiati explains: “When the shrubs are allowed to grow, it draws water from the ground that [later] evaporates into the atmosphere and becomes moisture. This moisture adds to other forms of evaporation, and this condenses and comes down as rain.”

Mr. Atumoce and others are trying to restore the degraded lands by protecting and pruning weak stems on shrubs, allowing shoots to grow into full trees. Farmers were also told to allow animals to graze on vegetation, so that their droppings can become a source of manure. Animal manure and composted manure made from decayed leaves are important for revitalizing the soil.

Since 2009, communities in the Upper East Region have been restoring their land as part of a project led by World Vision International. The project has been handed over to communities, and is being implemented in many villages across the region.

Volunteers have also been trained in firefighting and responding to bushfires that threaten the land. To prevent people from indiscriminately chopping down trees, new bylaws also regulate the harvesting of surplus wood, grasses, and other resources.

The Garu, Tempane, and Talensi districts now have an estimated 800,000 trees.

Beyond revitalizing the land, the trees are bringing additional benefits to farmers. Talaata Aburgi is a 60-year-old farmer from Susudi community in the area. She says neem trees have always been used to cure ailments, including diabetes, skin ulcers, malaria fever, and stomach ache. She is glad that these trees are now repopulating the area.

She adds that the trees are overall contributing to a nicer community to live in. She says, “[Without] this initiative, our younger and future generation may have never known the beauty and importance of such indigenous trees as they [would have] all been destroyed.”

This story is adapted from an article titled, “Poverty-stricken communities in Ghana are restoring once-barren land,” published by Interpress Service. To read the full story, go to: http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/poverty-stricken-communities-ghana-restoring-barren-land/ [1]