For the first time ever in Ghana, cocoa farmers have obtained official ownership of non-cocoa trees on their farms. Some 150 farmers in the country’s western region will now be able to include shade trees as part of their business plans, providing additional sources of income in the form of timber while reducing deforestation and the effects of climate change.
Cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, originates from the Amazon Basin rainforest, where for millennia it has grown under the forest canopy cover. But, in West Africa, where 70 percent of the world’s cocoa beans are produced, cocoa is often monocropped, with little to no shade. With climate change now threatening cocoa farms, forests and shade trees can positively affect local climatic conditions by promoting cooler temperatures, keeping moisture in the air and the soil, and helping maintain soil fertility. In addition to providing shade, trees help improve biodiversity by creating a friendly environment for birds and cocoa-pollinating insects. Different tree species also serve as an obstacle for pests that often spread diseases between cocoa trees.
In light of this, tree ownership represents a significant opportunity to encourage farmers’ stewardship of their land. Those working with farmers on climate adaptation and landscape level resilience have long called for such guaranteed ownership. The anti-deforestation efforts led by one international consortium culminated in this recent breakthrough, when the Ghanaian government approved tree registration for 150 cocoa farmers.
Consisting of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), Sustainable Food Lab, Agro Eco - Louis Bolk Institute, and Meridia, the consortium has been working closely with the chocolate and cocoa sector and the governments of Ghana and neighboring Côte d’Ivoire to reduce forest degradation in the cocoa supply chain. In partnership with the Ghana Forestry Commission and Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, the consortium successfully tested an affordable new tree registration system, using technology to gather data on 150 farms and create registration forms. The consortium says that Ghanaian government officials played a critical role in attributing registration numbers to the farmers’ trees. The work was supported by funding from the United States Agency for International Development as part of Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative.
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“With registration of my trees, I protected my farm from illegal logging and chainsaw operators, and I hope we can finally make some money from our shade trees,” said Thomas Amoah, one of the participating cocoa farmers.
Another farmer, Rosemond Ofosu, echoed Amoah’s comments, saying, “I will now plant more trees on my farm because the loggers will not be allowed to destroy my farm.”
Timber trees allow farmers to earn money by thinning trees halfway through the 25 to 30-year cocoa life cycle, as well as at the end of this cycle, when heavy investments are needed to rehabilitate aged cocoa trees. Tree tenure is also seen by experts as a way to fight the growing problem of illegal small-scale gold mining, a practice called ‘galamsey’ in Ghana. Agroforestry prompts farmers and their families to take a longer-term view of land management, thereby reducing the appeal of risky short-term gains offered through galamsey.
This tree tenure achievement builds on previous action in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the world’s largest cocoa-producing countries. At COP23 in November, their governments announced far-reaching frameworks for action with leading chocolate and cocoa companies, including Cargill, General Mills, Hershey, Mars, Mondelēz International and Nestlé, to end deforestation and restore forest areas.