A multi-stakeholder platform for ‘green’ agro-commodity and landscape development in Eastern Ghana

About 70km north of Accra, Ghana’s capital city, is the Atewa Forest Range located in the Eastern Region of Ghana. The forest is one of the largest remaining blocks of tropical forests, and a significant proportion of the forest is a protected reserve. It houses substantial, rare biodiversity and is a source of Birim, Densu and Ayensu rivers that among other importance, serve water to the city and the rural communities living at the banks of the rivers. These communities depend highly on the water from the rivers for their agricultural activities and other uses.

At the western fringes of the forest, we find production of agro-commodities such as cocoa, oil palm, rubber and banana.  This is characterised by large estates owned by international and Ghanaian companies without grower schemes and independent smallholders. On the horizon of the Atewa Forest Range, the area is rich in gold and bauxite minerals, therefore attracting mining activities, which, apart from largescale mining, also includes artisanal mining, locally known as “galamsing”.

While these activities could bring livelihood opportunities that enhance the living standards of local communities, they threaten the existence and conservation of the forest, for instance, because of farm encroachments, resulting in challenges of decoupling agricultural production, economic development and deforestation. This creates opportunities and calls for interventions and initiatives that can help address the trade-offs between agricultural and economic development and forest conservation.

One such intervention is the touted territorial approach. In a bid to pilot a jurisdictional (territorial) approach to landscape governance of agro-commodity production at the forest frontiers within jurisdictions, the Center for International Forestry Research Center (CIFOR)-World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) coordinated Governing Multifunctional Landscapes (GML) project in Ghana, has been working through various partnerships to stimulate multi-stakeholder dialogues and establish local learning platforms.  After a baseline survey of 750 agricultural households, the CIFOR research team collaborated with the Forest and Horticultural Crops Research Center (FOHCREC) of the University of Ghana successfully launched three agro-commodity working groups the sectors: Cocoa, Oil palm, Rubber in May 2021.

While also recognizing that mining is an “attractive” venture at the forest frontiers and in agricultural lands, it is prevalent and farmers lose their lands to mining activities, hence losing their farming livelihoods and the used mines left open. Therefore, a Mining Working Group was also launched as the fourth group, with the project’s ultimate goal of mine reclamation.  The established working groups for the GML project are various sector players in the two administrative boundaries adjoining the Atewa Range Forest Reserves in South-Eastern Ghana: Kwaebibirem Municipality and Atiwa West District.

Oil Palm Working Group. Photo: CIFOR

The working groups brought together various project stakeholders within the two jurisdictions to strategize on implementing action pathways for sustainable and “green” development. The working groups’ membership comprised of various representations from farmers and farmer groups, private and public-sector actors, and research institutions who are active in the Kwaebibirem Municipality (KM) and Atiwa West District (Atiwa landscape).

The working group members included smallholders, chief farmers and representatives of small-scale (artisanal) oil palm processors, locally known as “Kramers” farmer co-operatives and associations, such as Dadiesoaba and Pramkese Cocoa Co-operatives, Association of Eastern Region Rubber Out-growers (AERRO) and the Eastern Region Small-scale Miners Association; Cocoa Abrabopa Association; Cocoa and Health Extension Division of Cocobod-Ghana; the Kwaebibirem Municipality (KM) and Atiwa West District’s (AWD) Department of Agriculture; the KM and AWD assemblies; Agro-commodity companies, such as Ghana Oil Palm Development Corporation (GOPDC), Alaffia and Serendipalm; Traditional Authorities like Chiefs; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Forest and Horticultural Crops Research Institute (FOHCREC) and Oil Palm Research Institute.

In hindsight

A member of the Cocoa Working Group (left) and a representative of GOPDC (right), member of Oil Palm Working Group (right), speaking. Photos: CIFOR

The working groups shared in active dialogues about challenges in the four sectors. Preliminary findings from the 1st working group meetings show cross-cutting concerns about poor service delivery to smallholders; low production poor land use planning and governance; and lack of capacity for institutions and departments to enforce forest and environmentally friendly regulations in commodity production. Therefore, the Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist from CIFOR helped the working groups come up with Theories of Change (ToC) to formulate action pathways for desirable changes in each sector. The desired impacts are enhanced production, sustainable intensification, reduced deforestation, forest-friendly and climate-smart agriculture, and environmental protection from this exercise. The anticipated working group inputs and outcomes are: to identify gaps for smallholders’ service delivery, produce/product pricing, and market competition, mobilize stakeholders in the four sectors and communicate about broad participation in the initiatives and share information on action areas, help stakeholders adopt Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and identify opportunities of reclaiming old mines to the production of oil palm, cocoa and rubber.

Members of the Mining Working Group (left) and the Oil Palm Working Group (right) discussing. Photos: CIFOR

Going forward

Henceforth, each working group will be commissioned by CIFOR to mobilize, convene working group members severally throughout to the end of 2021; the working group members should deliberate on the strategies for resolving each sector challenges, opportunities and priorities and collaborate in building a business case for implementation of sustainable and forest friendly development Such include, forest protection and climate-smart agriculture, sustainable intensification of production of primarily, internationally traded commodities, i.e., cocoa, oil palm, rubber. Sustainable intensification is an initiative on preventing extensive expansion into the Atewa forest. It will collaborate towards working on goals pertaining to forest conservation, value and supply chain sustainability, and “green” landscape development goals. The end goal is to curb agriculture-induced deforestation and forest degradation.

Rubber Working Group. Photo: CIFOR

The overall goal of each working group is to come up with a ‘Landscape Development Strategy’ for its sector that aligns with the priorities of the local authorities and multi-stakeholders in the Atiwa landscape and wholly owned by local governments, traditional leaders, smallholder farmers, agricultural producers, forest users, companies and other value and supply chain actors. The purpose of the Mining Working Group will be to develop a mine reclamation strategy that will address how to close, decommission and reclaim mines to productive and innovative climate land uses and scale climate-smart and forest friendly practices on planned, active decommissioned mines. All the working groups’ development strategies should also speak to how to increase benefits to the local economy and include residents in economic growth an equitable way.