Historically, deforestation in Ghana’s Western Region has been driven by cocoa production. Ghana is the second largest producer in the world, and more than half of the country’s production comes from the Western Region. The landscape composition has been severely affected through conversion of species-rich tropical forest to cocoa production systems, which are less structurally and floristically diverse. From 1988 to 2010, cocoa cultivation in Ghana expanded by almost one million ha, much of that occurring in the Western Region, including the Juabeso-Bia District. At the same time however, per-hectare production of cocoa decreased because of poor management practices and ageing cocoa trees.
All of these factors, combined with cocoa’s vulnerability to climate change – changes in seasonal weather patterns, increased pest and disease occurrence, and increased likelihood of forest fire – present the cocoa farmers of Juabeso-Bia, and therefore Olam’s cocoa value chain, with an uncertain future.
In order to build resilience and adaptive capacity into the cocoa supply network, the Rainforest Alliance identified a need for increased community involvement in governing forest resources. This would demonstrate that forests are not obstacles, but rather opportunities to create a diversified economy based on sustainable farm and forest management. Local and regional land-use planning was perceived to be weak, with little involvement from traditional chiefs and cocoa farmers in framing a long-term vision of Ghana’s cocoa farming lands. In addition, structured discussions and planning between the Forestry Commission, which manages a large number of forest reserves across this cocoa landscape, COCOBOD (Ghana Cocoa Board) and other cocoa-sector entities had not taken place.
The landscape-level project therefore took a multi-tiered approach, working with farmers to implement Climate Smart Agriculture practices, with project activities being directly linked to Ghana’s national agricultural and environmental policy for cocoa production and biodiversity conservation.
Farmers were given technical assistance to achieve the rigorous standards of the SAN, which encourages farmers to analyze and consequently alleviate environmental and social risks caused by agricultural activities. The project also developed additional livelihood enterprises around beekeeping and rearing of the greater cane rat, to provide economic opportunities during lean times between seasonal cocoa harvests.
So what are the outcomes of this resilience-building project? To date, approximately 2,000 farmers from 34 communities have been trained. This has resulted in more than 6,000 ha of land achieving SAN certification. Through a “train the trainers” approach, 68 lead farmers serve as extension agents to facilitate farmer field schools. As part of the SAN standard requirements, forest area has been restored through the provision of native tree seedlings, leading to increased on-farm carbon stocks. The project has also helped farmers organize into 12 cooperatives, which has improved the coordination of activities such as enrichment planting, farmer field schools and overall training delivery.