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Ghana: Managing trees on the farm helps farmers solve problems

It’s a bright Wednesday morning and Asana Muah Bujanmie is wearing a blue golf shirt and black trousers. Mrs. Bujanmie is collecting mature shea kernels that have fallen from the trees on her farm.
The 53-year-old woman is in a jovial mood. She sits happily under one of the shea trees to relax and wait for her children to help carry home baskets full of kernels.

On her eight-acre-farm, Mrs. Bujanmie grows maize, groundnuts, and soybeans, and makes additional money from the trees she has allowed to naturally regenerate. She explains: “Instead of cutting down the shea and dawadawa trees on my farm, I allow them to naturally grow because they help to restore soil fertility. The trees are also assisting me to generate additional income.” Dawadawa is also known as African locust bean.

Mrs. Bujanmie has six children and lives in Pulima village in the Upper West region of northern Ghana.
For two decades, she has been allowing trees to regenerate on her farm and managing them. She explains, “When my parents gave me this farm, it already had some shea and dawadawa trees which I have protected for many years now.”

It takes seven years for Mrs. Bujanmie’s shea trees to start producing kernels that she can collect and sell. Now, she says, “Each year, I earn about 500 Ghanaian cedi ($42.12 US) from shea trees and 100 Ghanaian cedi ($8.42 US) from the fruits of the dawadawa trees.”

Salamatu Seidu is a 53-year-old farmer from Tarsor village in the Upper East region, about 150 kilometres from the regional capital, Wa. Like Mrs. Bujanmie, she is allowing trees to regenerate on her four-acre piece of land where she grows maize and groundnuts.

Mrs. Seidu says: “I don’t sell the fruits I harvest from the dawadawa trees because I have few trees. Instead, I use the fruits to make stew and soups for my family because they are very nutritious.”

She says that most men in her area clear trees when they start to regrow on their farms. She adds, “They don’t enjoy the benefits such as extra farm income and nutritious food which women get from allowing the trees to grow.”

Allowing trees to re-grow on the farm and managing them to take advantage of their benefits is called Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration, or FMNR. Anankaya Akolgo is another farmer who practices FMNR on the 20-acre farm where he grows yams, cassava, and cashews. His farm is located in Kintampo village in the Brong Ahafo region of Ghana, about 130 kilometres from the regional capital, Sunyani.

Mr. Akolgo says that mahogany and neem are the most popular trees he is allowing to naturally regenerate and grow on his farm. He explains: “For now, the trees provide good shade on the farm and also help to control the strong winds. I will continue protecting these trees to grow bigger so that in future I should cut and sell to make additional profit.”

He adds: “No matter how long it may take, in case I do not benefit by selling the trees myself, when the trees grow bigger, I am optimistic that my children will inherit my farm and benefit a lot in the future.”
Adulai Lansah Alhassan is a senior research scientist at the Savanna Agricultural Research Institute in Ghana. He says it’s important for farmers to allow trees to grow on their farms.

Mr. Alhassan explains that not only do the trees serve as a windbreak to protect the farm from strong winds—especially during the rainy season—but they also provide edible products such as fruits, nuts, and leaves.

According to Mr. Alhassan, trees on the farm also help maintain water in the soil. He adds: “Where there are a lot of trees, the area receives a lot of rains, which is good for farming. In addition, when the leaves fall on the ground, they decompose and improve soil fertility.”

He says that, apart from their economic benefits, the trees are nutritious and medicinal. He explains, “Communities use the leaves and the bark of most of the trees like mahogany and neem to treat illnesses like malaria, typhoid fever, and many more.”

Mrs. Bujanmie says she will continue to protect and manage the trees on her farm because of the numerous benefits she has received over the years.

She explains: “I have raised additional funds from shea and dawadawa trees apart from the profit I get from maize, groundnut, and soybeans. This is helping me to support my husband in taking care of our children.”

Photo: Farmers working a field in Kpachelo, Savelugu Nanton district, Northern Region, Ghana. Credit: Jesse Winter