Sustainable livelihoods of forest fringe communities : forests, trees and household livelihood strategies in southern Ghana
Forests play fundamental roles in supporting rural livelihoods in Ghana. They form an integral part of the rural economy, providing subsistence goods and services as well as items of trade. Non-timber forest products (NTFPs) contribute in many ways to improving diets, combating hunger and increasing incomes for rural households in Ghana. Indeed, wild plants and animals have traditionally been the major insurance of many rural households against food and livelihood insecurity. Yet past forestry development efforts have primarily focused on timber, and on building the forest capital, without paying equal attention to how these particular assets combine with others to sustain livelihoods, especially for the poor. This oversight has resulted in gaps in our understanding of the contribution of forest products to sustainable livelihoods. This study focuses primarily on the role of forest products (especially NTFPs) in rural livelihoods, the institutional issues that mediate local people's access to forest products, the impact of forest degradation and decline on rural livelihoods, and the forms of adaptation to forest resources decline. By combining qualitative and quantitative processes of enquiry (rapid rural appraisal, household questionnaire survey, key informant interviews, household case studies, literature search and direct detailed observations), the extent and manner in which forest-based resources form part of livelihood structures of forest and near-forest dwellers was examined in three forest fringe communities in the Wassa Amenfi District of southern Ghana. The results of this study reveal that NTFPs provide critical resources across southern Ghana, fulfilling nutritional, medicinal, cultural and financial needs, especially during periods of seasonal hardship and emergencies. Virtually all households consume a wide variety of forest foods, and forest-based activities provide one of the most common income-earning options for households throughout the study area. The contribution of forests and forest products to rural livelihoods is also manifested in the spiritual, cultural and traditional values placed on them. Forest products feature in many cultural ceremonies such as marriages, funerals, initiations, the installation of chiefs and the celebration of births. In spite of the important contribution of forest resources to rural livelihoods, current statutes in Ghana do not recognise indigenous rights to NTFPs in forest reserve areas. All products within forest reserves, including timber and NTFPs are vested in the government. Local people must obtain permits to harvest products from forest reserves. Similarly, all naturally occurring timber trees - whether on private or on communal land, or even on private farms - 'belong' to the government. It is an offence for an individual or community to cut or sell timber or merchantable tree species without permission from the Forestry Department (FD). Local people resent this form of exclusion and see the permit system as too expensive and complicated. This policy of exclusion discourages any sense of stewardship or responsibility towards forest resources. It alienates, and is a strong disincentive to local management of forests and timber resources. Because of this, people harvest NTFPs profligately and often destroy valuable timber species on their farms before concessionaires can gain access to them. The potential of forest products to continue to support rural livelihoods in Ghana can only be realised by an increase in the stream of forest benefits to local people. This will require security of access to forest resources, local incentives to protect the forest and its timber resources, and the involvement of local communities in forest management. These are critical issues if local communities are to use the forest resources in their localities sustainably. Because local communities are primary users of forest products, and create rules that significantly affect forest condition, their inclusion in forestry management schemes is essential.