On the Long Road to Farmer Benefits: Localizing PES schemes for Rural Ghana

Introduction

In early July, I was fortunate to take a trip to Ghana-what I had grown up knowing as the Gold Coast. A country of beautiful people who are closely related to the Lugbara of West Nile of Uganda, I immediately fell in love with the countryside. This trip was part of my Tropical Summer school as part of my graduate school generously organised by Bangor University and the Forest Research Institute of Ghana I was briefly in Accra before transitioning to Kumasi-the seat of the Asante-hene. This area would be my base for the next 10 days as I strived to understand forest governance in an area where forest refers to only protected(or what they call “on-reserve”) forest. Any other areas where trees exist( with a canopy cover of 30% and above) are locally not referred to as forests although technically they are. I wondered why we wouldnt exchange names for countries so that Ghana becomes Uganda and vice-versa.

After a 500km roundtrip through the winding rural roads of Ashanti land and Western, we were finally back to Kumasi. We had gone to Bedum, closer to Accra than it is to Kumasi. The trip felt refreshing but also provided an insight into what real farmers lives could be. From getting lost at some point, to the longer inquiries at road junctions and finally taking a 3 km trek to the Portal Forest Estates farm, we were happy to have finally located our gem: a210 acre wild, serene forest estate which is bringing to life a hope for forest conservation in places where drivers are immense.

Having evolved through different management regimes, the farm has now become a “REDD+ pilot in collaboration with the Forest Commission”. Its focus is on forest-based enterprises that could transform the livelihoods of the people.

The purpose of the day was to appreciate the diverse ecosystem services and goods and look beyond timber as the only valuable resource.

The major highlight of the day was how Portal Forest estates is going beyond the “timberisation” approach to tap into additional ecosystem services for the communities. Although they started with the establishment of a Cedrella plantation part of which produce is being exported to the United States, they have chosen to diversify and have crops that can thrive understory in order to maximize on benefits. The management has invested in the high-value spice value chain. From the nutmeg tree, to ylang ylang and vanilla, Canaga, Citronella and black pepper, to Heliconia plants being grown, the owners of the estate have established a production line focusing on extraction of essential oils for the cosmetic industry. This is a critical aspect of ensuring that forest products are processed to the last product-preferably by the same individual.

Forests not only provide goods but rather services. The management of the estate have established a wonderful experience where guests are immersed into the wild experience. This is in the naturally occurring tropical forest that was deliberately left intact. Sitting under the bamboo shades, we were offered a true experience of how “low value” forest products can be turned around to generate incomes and benefit local communities. From the women and men being employed in the preparation of foods, to the wonderful dining tables made of bamboo and the lunchboxes made of leaves, this blew up my mind on what goods untapped the forest has got.

Sustainability of such initiatives require social acceptability. One way of addressing this is to engage with the neighboring communities so they can provide the good sustainably. The management has adopted a form of payment for ecosystem services (PES) approach where farmers will be engaged as out growers. Because PES involves a conditionality and a reward/payment, the management is strategically engaging in this.

Once social acceptability is attained, spillover of good practices is most likely to increase, and this will contribute broadly to Ghana’s efforts of restoring trees/forest cover in accordance with their REDD+ strategy.

The visit to this site provided me with different views and opinions regarding tropical forest management. Translating global forest governance policies e.g. REDD+ into actionable approaches for the local communities can be a long, tedious and sometimes frustrating journey-just like the trip to Portal Forest estate. Unpacking the broader components of such policies to suit local context and obtaining buy in by the communities can at times be an uphill task. It is important to find a middle ground to provide benefits to the communities as the overall context of landscape restoration is achieved.

Given that forest products are diverse and at times unknown to the communities, at times its important to take a lead and establish pilots and show to the rest the need for “other alternatives”. Closing the entire value chain through production can be a viable option although it requires capital investment and a favorable government policy.

Note: This article was first submitted to Bangor University, Wales as part of the Msc Tropical Forestry Summer school class