Afforestation on cocoa farms - Ghana’s approach to reduce carbon emissions

Happy Cocoa Cocoa farmers

Fri, 31 Mar 2017 Source: Hinneh, Samuel

By: Samuel Hinneh

Cocoa farmers receiving education on tree planting on farms photo: Sander Muilerman/WCF

Ghana has over the years witnessed huge forest loss, mainly as a result of the movements of the timber sector as well as expansion of the cocoa industry, which largely promotes zero shade cocoa production systems. This gradually has led to the shattering of the country’s forest landscapes, loss of wildlife corridors, and degradation of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

The expansion of the cocoa industry which eventually leads to forest loss is not driven by the desire to increase national production, but essentially challenge of land tenure system farmers face. Therefore, land tenure is an ongoing problem which enables forest loss through the removal of forests to establish cocoa farms. Ghana’s land tenure policy drives the lack of on-farm investment generally.

This prevents the expansion of cocoa farms via more environmentally sound production using greater shade. Consequently, there is limited incentive for farmers to plant or even maintain shade trees due to tenure issues associated with landowners, and landowners have limited rights to naturally occurring trees on their land. Awareness creation on tree tenure rights is also lacking.

Cocoa production in Ghana has been carried out in two main regions namely the moist semi-deciduous forest (Eastern, Ashanti, Brong-Ahafo, Central and Volta Regions) and high rainforest (Western Region) agro-ecological zones. Progressive conversion of forests in Ghana into cocoa fields, particularly in the Western Region, contributes to ongoing deforestation. There is a trend towards less shaded cocoa landscapes that undercuts the environmental sustainability of cocoa production and biodiversity conservation.

The sustainable production of cocoa plays a pivotal role for sustainable development, including poverty reduction. Cocoa cultivation that maintains higher proportions of shade trees (cocoa agroforestry) is increasingly being viewed as a sustainable land use practice that is environmentally preferable to other forms of agricultural activities in tropical forest regions because it contributes to biodiversity conservation.

A jointly coordinated environmental programme, known as Cocoa Forest REDD+ Programme between Ghana Cocoa Board (Cocobod) and Forestry Commission seeks to considerably reduce deforestation and degradation in the country’s cocoa landscape.

The project which would receive support from the Carbon Fund of the World Bank, aims to curb emissions driven by expansion of cocoa into forest areas, whilst also addressing illegal logging and chainsawing, as well as illegal mining.

By tackling these drivers, Ghana seeks to secure the future of its forests and make the cocoa sector climate-resilient, and at the same time sustaining and enhancing income and livelihood opportunities for farmers and forest users across the programme area. The programme covers 5.92 million hectares in five regions in Ghana-Western, Central, Brong-Ahafo, Ashanti and Eastern, spanning across 92 administrative districts in the country. In addition, 79% off-reserve and 21% on-reserve areas, would be serviced by the programme. At the end of the day, a total of 12 million people almost evenly split between urban and rural areas would be encountered by the programme.

Mrs Roselyn F. Adjei, the National Focal Person for REDD+ and Forest Investment Programme Safeguards & Gender at the Forestry Commission said The Ghana Cocoa Forest REDD+ Programme mainly targets cocoa growing areas in high forest zone of Ghana, with focus on commodity-cocoa.

Out of the analysis of drivers of deforestation, it was realised that agriculture expansion plays a key role and out of that cocoa stood out, she says.

"Cocoa was encroaching into forest reserve areas and farmers were just expanding their farms, leaving some of the old farms and establishing new farms. So there was the need to come together and have a programme where the cocoa benefits and the tree also benefits because they both need each other," Mrs Adjei notes.

The main aim is to intensify cocoa production rather than to expand it within the same unit area to have more yield rather expansion, Mrs Adjei stresses.

"The amount of shades we have on cocoa farms because if cocoa farms are shaded very well, they can be classified as an open forest according Ghana's forest definition. But without shade they are not, but with some level of shade from 15 percent canopy cover, they are classified as open forest and that will also increase forest cover," she explains.

To ensure that farmers do not expand when productivity increases with expansion, Cocobod would also intends to put different pillars to curtail that.

"Pillars on policy and legislation, particularly on the law enforcement bit should be key because if people are getting more, they should not expand. So the law should be enforced, where the law enforcement agencies should always be on the watch to ensure people do not expand. Extension services should also go at the right time. There is the need for a lot of extension providers on the ground, even forestry extension in addition to the agricultural aspect."

Due to the fact that in Ghana lands are owned by individuals, families, and even communities, it becomes a complex issue for even the government when it comes to acquisition.

"If they were government lands, the government can easily use them for specific purposes. But because they belong to people, you can't just go in to oppose on them what they should do or otherwise. So it is just a matter of dialogue with individuals and conducting research on what is best suited for each land area and eventually we believe that stakeholders will get to understand or communities in particular why they need to leave a particular land for a particular land use," she points out.

The programme also seeks to help address financial constraint encountered by farmers through the provision of finance to de-risk the cocoa sector by providing farmers with access to credit facilities.

"Cocoa is a major commodity and forms the base for beverages, so we are trying to bring private sector actors such as Nestle Ghana, Cadbury, etc. together and by making a point to them that cocoa, our natural material base is being depleted.

"This will go a long way to build up their programmes around the emissions reduction programme the country is developing so that they can tailor some of their funding be it microfinance scheme to help farmers, farmer education, inputs supply, helping with extension services, mapping of farms.

That is where we think private sector can come in by getting hybrid seedlings that would be high yielding to farmers."

At the moment the Forestry Commission has signed a memorandum of understanding with Touton Ghana which seeks to draw on Ghana's REDD+ programme to develop their own module.

In terms of institutional arrangement, the programme is looking at forming small groups at the local level involving district assemblies, private sector actors, farmers, and other local community members to form a project management unit who would have their own management plan in place to manage the emissions reduction programme.

"What we have further gone ahead to do is the identification of deforestation hotspots, because we cannot just go into the whole landscape and begin everything. So there was an assessment on deforestation trends and hotspots and identified about six to nine hotspots. We call them hotspot intervention areas and these areas are sort of be managed like a whole programme on its own, with management body and use the same reporting structures to report to the national level."

The Deputy Director, Research, Monitoring and Evaluation of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Mr Kwadwo Kissiedu Kwapong says it is supposed to improve land use and socio-economic developments in the forest zone in the cocoa growing areas.

"The issue is that it has been seen that cocoa is a major driver of deforestation in Ghana and so farmers expand their production by clearing more forests. This programme is targeting a situation where clearing more forests will not the case but already existing cocoa areas or reborn farm introduce more trees."

"Currently the Cocobod strategy is adopting this and the recommendation is that instead of extending into forests you rather intensify an area per hectare. The focus is that cocoa production is more sustainable if it grows in a more forest condition. So far it is recommended that between 18-20 economic trees on both existing and new cocoa farms so farmers are being encouraged to do that."

The project has gone through a stage where Ghana's emission reduction document has been prepared and submitted to the Carbon Fund and supposed to have taken effect this month, but the final document should be submitted by April due to some changes to the document.

When the Carbon Fund approves of the document then implementation can begin.

"The idea is to get farmers not degrading the forests but planting more trees on their farms and for that matter increasing carbon stocks and when the carbon stocks increase, there will be benefits to the farmers in terms of benefits of payment. They have a target of how much carbon should be sequestered in a year over a certain period, and if Ghana is able to achieve that, the benefits in the form of cash and premium will be paid to farmers in communities who are doing this."

Apart from increasing carbon stock, it is intended to increase the livelihood of the farmer, so while the farmer is benefiting from the carbon sequestration, it is expected that the economic trees that are planted on the farms would fetch income for the farmers.

A new law at forestry commission seeks to help farmers own those trees, and register them, he mentions. "A new document is being developed for farmers to register those trees that they planted and nurture, and when they are of age, farmers will harvest them to their benefit," Mr Kwapong says.

The current arrangement does not allow farmers to own trees that they nurture on that farms, because the law stipulates that all naturally acquired trees belong to the state.

"So proper tree tenure arrangements are being done for farmers to own trees that they plant and nurture on their farms. The other side also is that as the trees are growing, there is going be high yield. The idea is that the more canopy you have on your cocoa farm, the higher your yield, and the higher the sustainability of your farm," he emphases.

"Biodiversity is another thing-it is known or believe that the more unshaded your cocoa is, certain fauna are not able to live in those areas. So the more trees you introduce, the more habitat the place becomes for animals and some of them are beneficial to the farmer, so it is important we conserve the forest so that these animals can live in those areas and also support the farmer."

Cocobod's cocoa strategy document which is in the drafting stage, currently going through validation, supports the project and other sustainability programmes to ensure that cocoa is sustained and the livelihood of farmers who are the primary producers of cocoa benefits from their toils.

Apart from the cocoa strategy document, Cocobod has a cocoa rehabilitation arrangement which is guided by the strategy document that is also geared towards increasing cocoa production to about double the current size.

Ghana's cocoa production peaked in the 2010/11 season at more than 1 million tonnes, dipped to under 750,000 tonnes in 2014/15 season before rebounding slightly last season.

"We are integrating climate smart cocoa arrangement in it, because it is expected we design standards that would make the farmer adopt certain practices that would make Ghana's cocoa unique and sustainable. So we are designing a climate smart cocoa standards which would stipulates what standards a Ghanaian cocoa farmer should adopt to ensure that we sustain the environment and don't degrade the environment and have cocoa tends out to be produced through climate smart."

"We are training farmers, where extension officers are talking to farmers, so that farmers can grab this idea and implement on their farms to ensure that every cocoa comes out would be branded as such," he states.

Illegal mining is a bane to sustainable development in the country, with many water bodies as well as agricultural lands destroyed in the process.

One of the Major concern of Cocobod is illegal mining, he mentions.

He says Cocobod is trying to address the issue by bringing stakeholders together to forge a common solution to address the problem.

We are developing a communication strategy to get farmers and community opinion leaders to be aware of the dangers of destroying or selling farmland for someone to engage in illegal mining. Even though the communication strategy is yet to be rolled out, Cocobod periodically sensitise farmers on best farming practices on sustainability of cocoa farming using radio stations in communities.

"Ghana depends so much on cocoa and needs to be sustained. As Cocobod is on the national REDD plus committee and all the things that are being to ensure that REDD plus succeeds we are part of it and make sure we protect the cocoa environment to make coco sustainable."

Sander Muilerman, Program Manager Climate Smart Cocoa - West Africa at the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) says the key to achieving real and sustained impact is land use planning and landscape governance in natural resources management.

It is important that companies work together and commit to end deforestation and forest degradation in the global cocoa supply chain, but this can only be truly successful when in-country it happens in partnership with all the other land use actors and stakeholders in the different cocoa landscapes.

We are opening a multi-stakeholder discussion process and seek alignment with the Ghana’s long term strategies for the cocoa, agricultural and forestry sectors, he emphasises.

"Only this can help ensure sustainable livelihoods, responsible use of natural resources, and productive cocoa farming systems; ‘people, planet and profit’. This statement of collective intent to end deforestation is but one vital step in a long process," Mr Muilerman says.

WCF and its members focus on achieving an end to deforestation and forest degradation, basically by improving our understanding of the situation both nationally and locally, building strong partnerships and multi-stakeholder dialogue, and by aiming to keep cocoa within designated cocoa areas and convincing smallholder farmers to stay out of protected forests and national parks.

"This can only be achieved when existing cocoa farms provide sustainable livelihoods, and produce sufficient cocoa to achieve Ghana’s national production goals. The key to success is to convince and support farmers to responsibly use and intensify existing cocoa farms.

"On top of the industry’s existing efforts--among others through technical advice, professional service delivery and work on community development--the WCF is strongly focused on understanding how to make cocoa farming ‘climate-smart’.

"By understanding what it takes to make existing cocoa farming areas more resilient to climate change, we hope to ensure long-term sustainable cocoa production on current farm lands, again preventing further use of forests. Our current focus of enquiry and experimentation is for example on increasing the number of shade trees on farm, on training farmers on relevant climate-smart practices, and on considering the farmer business case of various agroforestry cocoa farming systems," Mr Muilerman said.

Columnist: Hinneh, Samuel