In northern Ghana, near the Burkina Faso border, the people of Pase and Charia villages make their living from crops, livestock and tree products, and rely on brief rains to get them through the long hot dry season. But the landscape has been gradually depleted of trees. This leads to flooding and soil erosion during the rains, silting of water bodies and reduction in crop yields. David Moomen, Coordinator of Sungmaale Integrated Herbalists Association (SIHA), explains that, as a result, ‘many homes face food insecurity and malnutrition prompting young men and women to migrate south or to areas where illegal mining is being practiced. Sometimes they return home with diseases such as HIV AIDS. Land degradation increases the vulnerability of this poor community, fracturing their sources of income and undermining their livelihoods’.
During the long dry season, fuel wood and charcoal selling is the main business. The bush is overgrazed, and burned by farmers, hunters and cattle owners. Women walk ever further to fetch fuel wood for cooking. Some highly valuable native trees such as Parkia biglobosa and Saba senegalensis are becoming scarce. And, as David Moomen says: ‘poverty is the driving factor for degradation of the environment’.
SIHA takes an integrated approach to the challenges: building capacity and understanding; engaging women and men in alternative ways of earning money; introducing woodlots and fodder trees; improving soil fertility and restoring degraded areas. The goal is to build their capacity to reverse land degradation and to adopt practices that will improve food security and reduce poverty, leading to sustainable improvements in the environment and in livelihoods.
In 2015 SIHA set itself ambitious targets.
So far achievements are:
- 12,500 trees were raised and planted with an initial survival rate of 86%.
- Species included Senna siamea, Albizia spp, Teak and Moringa oleifera – all are good agroforestry species, and Moringa leaves and seeds are highly nutritious.
- 40 women and 30 men took part in raising and planting the trees.
- A School Environmental Club was established and helped to plant the trees.
- 40 women were trained and equipped for soap making, and 30 young people for beekeeping, to ‘jump start income generating ventures’.
- An Environmental Management Committee was established: 10 men and 10 women trained to implement sustainable land management.
- Bye laws to protect the forest from bush fires and indiscriminate tree felling were approved by the Chief and his elders.
- The Environment Management Committee patrols the project site to prevent fires and stop livestock browsing the plants.
Project activities are being sustained. The tree nursery is being managed by 3 women and 2 men. The Environmental Club encourages children to tell parents about the importance of trees. The Women, Men and Youth groups have been restructured with elected officers. The Women Group opened a bank account for proceeds from the sale of products. Part of the funds will be used to raise seedlings annually. SIHA’s capacity has grown, enabling it to take part in preparing the national reforestation strategy, and form collaborations with Government agencies.
The project was especially successful in:
- Improving the livelihood situation of beneficiaries. ‘They are now able to produce and sell soap at the local market. The profit generated is shared among beneficiaries for use in procuring some basic necessities for their households’.
- Improving the local environment. In the short term this is largely due to improved protection. In the longer term, as the trees grow, people will ‘benefit from increased vegetation, providing fuel wood for the community and fodder for the animals.’ The eventual aim is that ‘streams and ponds will no longer dry up during the hot season… flora which was extinct will regenerate, while the fauna which abandoned the area will return to their natural habitat.’
- Changing the behaviour of community members. ‘They now view the forest as an important natural resource which demands their absolute protection and attention. Indiscriminate felling of trees is no longer an easy undertaking due to the bye laws’.
Project participant Albertina Wanaa, 32, says: ‘The project … has brought sanity in the way trees are being exploited. We have made rules to govern the felling of trees and we respect the rules.’ ‘The soap training …has enabled us to produce and sell soap in the local market. The number of times we visit the forest to fell trees has reduced because of the soap making.’
With funds from the Body Shop Foundation, ITF is supporting further work in 2016, with a focus on promotion of Moringa, Mango and Cashew trees for nutrition and income; restoration of degraded land; and further development of beekeeping.
by Paul Laird, ITF Programmes Manager