In Northern Ghana, trees have unique cultural and economic significance, and are inextricably linked to the livelihoods of rural populations. Sacred groves are a common sight in most rural communities. These groves are usually patches of primeval forest and are protected as abodes of deities, with unique spiritual significance to specific communities. In Northern Ghana, sacred groves have remained an ancient part of nature conservation and are usually under the care of traditional land owners locally called ‘Tindaana’’.
Indigenous tree species such as shea (Vitellaria paradoxa), Parkia (Parkia biglobosa) also known African Locust Bean, and Baobab (Adansonia digitata) have very important cultural and spiritual significance. For several generations trees and their products have been integral to traditional cuisine. Baobab tree leaves, for example, are widely used for the preparation of soup. Parkia tree seeds are processed into a local spice called ‘Dawadawa’. The Shea tree is an important economic resources, as processed shea butter produced from the shea kernel is in high demand nationally and internationally especially for the cosmetic and confectionary industries.
Introducing social forestry
I work with the Community Self-Reliance Centre (COSEREC). We are a local non-profit organisation working with grassroots community organisations and rural populations in the Upper East Region of Northern Ghana. A big part of our work involves sustainable natural resource management.
Key to our approach is the use of social forestry principles in our work. Social forestry refers to the management of forests mainly for the benefit of local communities. There are various types of social forestry programmes, including homestead agroforestry, strip plantation, block plantation, plantation on homestead area, marginal lands, forest land, and on fallow lands. The aim of social forestry is to grow trees to meet the increasing needs of people for timber, fuel wood, food and medicinal products, with a view to reducing pressure and over dependence on traditional forest areas. In short, social forestry conserves forests AND provides for local communities.
Among communities COSEREC work, agroforestry is one of the preferred types of social forestry because it can be seamlessly integrated into traditional agricultural practices. Agroforestry is shown to provide practitioners with immediate to medium term benefits, including income from sale of tree fruits, and a reliable supply of compost to contribute to improved nutrient cycles and water retention. Essentially, agroforestry is a great replacement of traditional monoculture farming practices thus moving farmers from single commodity to multiple commodity value chains.
Restoring forests and biodiversity for local economies
Our work in Northern Ghana over two decades has provided a unique perspective to community-led forestry interventions in the face of climate change. Forests and their diverse biological resources play a significant role in community livelihoods and the promotion of biodiversity. However, with growing demand for forest resources, land use change and growing pressure on ecosystems mainly due to increasing populations, these resources are dwindling at an alarming pace. Threats to biodiversity have become a critical issue that requires urgent attention.
It is in light of the above that at COSEREC we have identified and are actively pursuing community led agroforestry interventions as one of the key avenues for restoring biodiversity. This includes the identification and provision of practical skills to help farmers and their community groups integrate trees on farms. We emphasise the role of trees in improving nutrient cycles and by extension agricultural productivity.
These interventions are already yielding good results. In the village of Gundoog located in the Nabdam District of the Upper East Region, we have been collaborating with Fuseini Bugbun for four years. Fuseini is helping to transform the landscape around the Gundoog and neighbouring villages. A model agroforestry system around the Fuseini’s homestead has become a great showcase which attracts visitors from across Ghana, including notable researchers from the University for Development Studies. Fuseini’s farm also attracts international volunteers seeking practical experience in agroforestry.
“I have long held the view that trees remain the most important factor of our human existence, hence we should do all in our power to ensure their continued existence” – Fuseini Bugbun
The evidence for biodiversity restoration as a direct result of our work with Fuseini is clear, as seen in the return of various species of birds, flora and fauna. A significant development is that this model agroforestry system now supplies a wide range of medicinal plants used by members of the Gundoog community and neighboring villages for various traditional medicinal remedies.
In a bid to expand these gains COSEREC recently partnered the International Tree Foundation. Together, we will provide and expand critical tree nursery infrastructure and expand our community led agroforestry interventions to eight communities in the Nabdam and Bongo Districts of the Upper East Region. There is a great deal more we can do together.
Mark Kebo Akparibo is a Development Professional and Non-Timber Forest Products development specialist with over a decade’s experience working in the Northern Savanna Ecological Zone of Ghana. He has received a number of national and international recognitions including the Mandela Washington Fellowship (2015), Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (2017), and the Earnest Fellowship on Human Rights Protection (2017) in recognition of his sterling contributions in the area sustainable environmental management interventions in Northern Ghana.