Exploring our work in Ghana

Rainforest Alliance communications team member, Marcus Schaefer, recently travelled from his home outside Stockholm to the West African nation of Ghana which is home to 24 million people. Here he kicks off this new blog series with an overview a landscape project which brings together a number of different elements of the Rainforest Alliance’s work.

Travelling from Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city and capital of the Ashenti people, to the cocoa growing regions in the west, two things strike me. I do not see any rainforests, only the occasional majestic tree and the trucks carrying huge logs going in the opposite direction. We are passing a landscape that has gone through a similar transformation as my home country of Sweden, where old growth forests have been reduced to a few percent of the countries forested lands.

In the 1900’s Ghana had some 8,2 million hectares of rainforest. Today less than 1.2 million hectares of the rainforest remains much of which occurs in forest reserves. Only 40,000 hectares of that original old growth forest remain, outside of national parks and forest reserves. The main driver for this massive destruction has been conversion to small scale agriculture. Today Ghana has the world’s highest deforestation rate, losing 2.1% of its remaining forests annually. This translates to about 115,000ha per annum. For the Rainforest Alliance, with a mission to preserve biodiversity, reaching out to communities in Ghana and helping them to transform their land use practices is of great importance.

My visit took me to the Juabeso/Bia region of western Ghana, on the border to Cote d’Ivoir. For three years the Rainforest Alliance have worked with 36 communities promoting sustainable land use practises and creating small scale enterprises in this remote corner of the country. The communities are nestled in between the Bia National Park and Krokusa Hills Forest Reserve. In the region, cocoa is king. 80% of the 26,000 hectares of land included in the project is used for cocoa farming.

What sets Rainforest Alliance’s work in the Juabeso/Bia region apart is that it has not only promoted cocoa certification. It has focused on bringing sustainability to the whole landscape. The project is build on four pillars; sustainable forest management, REDD+, development of small scale enterprises that complement forest management, climate change education in the local schools as well as cocoa certification and training in the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) Standards.

The project is financed by Usaid, Norad with Olam as a business partner and is a part of the UNEP – GEF initiative Greening the Cocoa Industry. Through the project 1,259 farms have become Rainforest Alliance Certified. And Olam buys the cocoa produced which it then supplies to Barry Callebaut and Unilever. So the chances are you are eating cocoa from this project in your Magnum ice cream.

“The project has been a great success for two main reasons.” says Victor Mombu, Environmental Services Specialist at Rainforest Alliance in Ghana, “First, together with the communities we developed and implemented a very strong local management structure. And second, we have focused on several aspects of the farmers’ lives, not only cocoa farming.”

In Ghana the price paid to farmers for their cocoa is regulated by the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD). The price is set at the beginning of the season and all cocoa farmers are paid the same price regardless of the quality of their crop. So how could the Rainforest Alliance attract farmers to join a programme that meant investing time and money in their operations when the price for the crop is already set?

“The bottom line of any sustainability project is knowledge transfer and creating an acceptance of new methods. Through the local management structure we created an understanding that; increased yields, alternative sources of income and cost control have a much greater effect on the bottom line than price alone. In a longer perspective, adapting farms to climate change, securing good yields now and in the future is perhaps the most important.” says Anthony Adon, Field Team Leader for Rainforest Alliance Juabeso/Bia.

In the rest of this blog series from Juabeso/Bia I will be reporting on the different aspects the project, from REDD+ and promoting climate education in schools to supporting small scale business like grasscutter husbandry to cocoa certification and climate friendly cocoa farming.

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