Forestation experts and advocates have said Ghana’s hopes of increasing cocoa and oil palm production are under severe threat with the increase in deforestation.
Government has for the past two decades set an annual target of 1million tonnes of cocoa production. Even with the consistent degradation of forest cover to plant more cocoa trees, all but the 2010/11 season have failed to meet the target – with the 2015/2016 season seeing a return of 778,044 tonnes.
“Cocoa production sometime ago was about 500-600 kilos per hectare but now it is about 400 kilos, and that is a significant reduction. This is not good for the farmers, government and the economy in general.
“If we can improve productivity to 600 kilos or higher, we will not need to extend into more forest areas to meet the demand or the target the country has set for itself,” Abraham Baffoe, the Africa Regional Director of ProForest – an international NGO that advocates for afforestation – has said.
He added that smallholder cocoa and oil palm farmers utilise 80 percent of the land, but in terms of total output – volume and value – they produce a quarter of what the major companies produce.
“Smallholder farmers are producing about 3-5 tonnes per hectare of oil palm while major companies are producing 15-18 tonnes per hectare, and so by increasing productivity for the smallholder farmers we will be increasing production significantly without moving into new frontiers,” he noted.
He advised that government should find the balance between maintaining a significant amount of smallholder farmers to ensure sustainability of livelihoods and increasing their output, while encouraging major corporations as well.
“Once you do that and the communities are benefitting from it, then the communities are happy. Then we will prevent further forest encroachment and also enhance their income levels and reduce poverty, which are the responsibilities of government,” he added.
Data from the Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) 2020, a global public-private partnership in which partners aim to reduce tropical deforestation, shows that the country’s forest cover has dwindled from a high of 8.4million hectares as at 1900 to as low as 1.8million hectares currently.
It added that between 1990 and 2000 Ghana lost an average of 135,000hectares per annum, while the current deforestation rate is estimated to be around 3.2 percent per annum.
Even though deforestation or removal of the forest cover will provide more land for farming palm oil and cocoa – one of the biggest foreign exchange earners, the experts have noted that degrading the forest will rather negatively impact the crops’ volume and value.
Their solution is to increase productivity per hectare, especially for smallholder farmers, instead of increasing the land space while losing more forest area and reducing the capacity of trees to absorb carbon emissions from greenhouse gases.
Richard Scobey, President of the World Cocoa Foundation – a non-profit organisation that promotes sustainability in the cocoa sector, said widespread deforestation has increased adverse climate change impacts, which has led to an increase in temperatures, reduction in environmental services of forests like improved run-off and water retention.
“Deforestation is creating environmental problems which affect the productivity and quality of cocoa,” he said in an interview at the TFA 2020 Annual General Assembly which came off last week in Accra.
He noted that what needs to be done immediately is phase out cocoa farming in environmentally sensitive areas which have been gazetted as national parks or protected forests, which will allow for the full restoration and conservation of those areas.
“The second impact is to introduce more climate-smart cocoa which involves mixed agro forestry, so we just don’t plan large mono-culture plantations of cocoa. We work with farmers to plant shade trees with a mixed agro forestry system, so that way we get the economic benefits of cocoa production plus the environmental benefits of improved water run-off reduction and climate change impacts,” he said.
The TFA meeting brought together the global forest community to help accelerate action on priorities in achieving Agenda 2020, which is geared toward eliminating deforestation from major commodity supply chains.