Sustainable Development Success Stories

Leaf Gatherers in Kwapanin

Location  Kwapanin, Ghana.
Responsible Organisation Ghana Forestry Department.
Description Timber is a valuable product for Ghana and its industrial sector, but for the village communities living close to the forest reserves, non-timber forest products are more important. The trade of non-timber products is a flourishing industry, with trade and processing serving as a source for supplemental or seasonal income, as well as a source of emergency revenue during hard times. Non-timber forest products include herbaceous plants, such as the Marantaceae leaves, used to wrap food (such as fried plantain or cooked rice), cola nuts, spices, salt, meat, etc.

The Forestry Department manages forests through familiar means such as forest guards, demarcation lines, management plans and more recently yield regulation and control. Reserve boundaries are generally respected, but the condition of the forest is worsening. Illegal logging, illegal mining, bushfires and illegal farming are all problems that plague the Forestry Department.

The Forestry Department's regulatory system alone did not secure the resource. The challenge for foresters was to combine their silvicultural systems and logging control with community based activities that enhance forest management.

Leaf gathering was subject to difficulties ranging from a cumbersome and expensive Forestry Department (FD) permit system, wild bushfires, inadequate resources to police the forest and the lack of dialogue between forestry officials and the leaf gatherers. In response, a Participatory Forest Management Unit (PFMU) was initiated to work with the District Forest Officer and the leaf gatherers from Kwapanin to modify the system.

The objectives of the experiment were:

  • to improve relations between the FD staff and rural people on the periphery of the reserve;

  • to see whether gatherers living near the forest reserve would conduct themselves responsibly if given free and unrestricted access to exercise their communal rites for NTFPs;

  • to ensure that all people gathering in the forest were doing so legally;

  • to study the importance of Marantaceae leaf gathering in the livelihoods of women and children;

  • to learn more about the Marantaceae leaf resource and its exploitation.

Issues Addressed Changing consumption and production patterns, forest protection and management.
Results Achieved A registration system was established conferring most of the responsibility for monitoring the gatherers to village institutions. Parties agreed that all gathers would register with PFMU, with the queen mother, who was the head spokesperson of the gatherers, and the village chief ensuring that only those registered would enter the forest.

The programme generated interest among the villagers in protecting the forest reserve from bushfires, greater efforts to curb overexploitation and improved relations between the Forestry Department and the villagers.

Lessons Learned
  • The experiment provided an example to the Forestry Department of how, given the right kind of incentive, advice and encouragement, rural communities who depend on forest products can cooperate with them in the management and protection of the forests.

  • It showed that there is considerable scope for improving forest management systems so that local communities derive greater benefit and are more actively involved in the management of forests without major changes in policy. What is needed is a shift in the perceptions of foresters with regards to the potential for involving local people in forest management. Small experiments like the one in Kwapanin go a long way in shifting people's views about what is and what is not possible in encouraging more local involvement in forest management.

  • It showed that in some circumstances at least small changes can make a big difference, especially in improving relationships between different parties involved in management.

  • The head of the Forestry Department in Ghana has stated that, in the future, forestry must address local as well as national needs: 'only when forests have a real value to the local people will we be able to gain their cooperation and energy for forest protection and management... and without that cooperation the future of the forests cannot be guaranteed... except at the prohibitive cost of a vast army of forest guards.'

  • The principle of ensuring that forest management systems address local needs and engender local cooperation is now accepted in Ghana. The new approach will be based on collaboration between forest using and owning communities and professional foresters. What is not yet clear is what this means in practice. The Forestry Department has therefore established a unit called the Collaborative Forest Management Unit. The job of this unit is to explore the potential for a more collaborative approach to forest management.

  • Finally, with regard to replicating this work, there is the need to create a situation in which responsible access to the reserves is always obtainable, not only on special dispensation. The Forestry Department needs to institute effective alternatives to the permit system, by creating an environment in which people using NTFPs across southern Ghana will automatically be able to take more control over the management of this resource. This is a task that is currently being tackled by the Collaborative Forest Management Unit.

Contact Ms. Mary M.O. Agyemang
Forestry and Land Use Programme
International Institute for Environment and Development
3 Endsleigh Street
London WC1H 0DD, UK
Tel. (44) 171 388 2117; Fax (44) 171 388 2826.
E-mail: mailto:forestry@iied.org