From Agriculture to Agroforestry in Ghana
Use alternative livelihood projects to reduce risk for farmers in transitioning from monoc-ropping to agroforestry. Agroforestry is both economically and environmentally superior to introduced mono-cr
It is estimated that more than 90% of Ghana’s forests have been logged since the 1940s and that primary forests all but disappeared in the 1980s (Kufuor 2000, 52-53). There are multiple causes of deforestation, but much of the deforestation that has ravaged the forests of Ghana took place during the 1980s when the Ghanaian government tried to pay off its debt obligations to the World Bank by exploiting its timber resources (Kufuor 2000, 54). Today, the forests continue to be logged for commercial exploitation as well as for fuel wood, charcoal, and local building materials. Massive spans of forest have also been felled to make way for mono-cropped tracts of maize, yams, and other staple crops. Though large areas of unexploited forests still exist in the Volta and Western Regions of Ghana, the majority of the primary forest is gone.
This may only seem like an environmental crisis, but it isn’t. It is also a social and economic crisis that resides over a massive depletion in soil nutrition, lower agricultural yields, a depressed agricultural economy, and social problems. Rural Ghanaian communities have become increasingly non-competitive as they have relied on staple crops that are sold in a primary, unprocessed form. Contrasted with the booming cocoa economy of the 1970s, the current agricultural economy is very poor and has brought economic depression to many parts of rural Ghana, particularly the Volta Region.
From Agriculture to Agroforestry
Many farmers in rural Ghana are interested in transitioning from introduced mono-cultural methods of agriculture to intercropped, multi-storey methods of agro-forestry. Their interests in agro-forestry are rooted in both environmental and economic perspectives concerning agro-forestry’s functionality in their ecological and social environments. Agro-forestry is viewed as a way to incorporate a higher diversity of crops, including crops with different varieties of social and ecological value. Agro-forestry can sustain both subsistence crops for consumption (starchy tubers, fruits, and vegetables) as well as value-added crops for export (cocoa, coffee, moringa, and other medicinal plants). Additionally, agro-forestry methods of cultivation are more environmentally sustainable. Inter-cropped plants and tree crops in agro-forestry systems sustain healthier soils and provide shade for certain crops and sources of fuel that are valuable alternatives to deforestation.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Volta Region of Ghana from 2005-2007 I held agro-forestry workshops that created an incredible amount of buzz in the village concerning agro-forestry. I worked with a farmer-based organization to create a local nursery started and sustained through a Small Project Assistant grant (which can be read through a link on my website: http://web.me.com/douglas_larose ). Many farmers in the group began cultivating tree crops, but were afraid to transition into agro-forestry for economic reasons. In particular, they were afraid of the risk of losing their short-term income in place of an unsure long-term gain.
The gain of such a transition would be a more diverse, economically resilient form of agriculture that would produce cash crops such as cocoa, coffee, and medicinal plants as well as subsistence crops that are crucial to local economies and nutrition. The danger in not making such a transition is the continued degradation of the environment, economic stagnation, and reliance on a few staple crops.
But how to fully make this transition? I have been mulling this over since I returned from my Peace Corps service and I have come to the conclusion that such a transition needs to be made with a safety net comprised of an alternative livelihood project such as beekeeping, rabbit rearing, grasscutter rearing, or mushroom farming. If the farmers are going to assume all of this risk in transitioning from mono-cropped staples to multi-storied diverse crops, then they will continue to be intimidated. A great idea would be to fill that potential gap through an introduced alternative source of livelihood. Within a few years, the farmers could have a new, reliable source of income in their alternative livelihood project as well as a farm that has transitioned into agro-forestry. This would insure their economic success as well as a healthy environment.
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