Towards Sustainability and Protection of the Kwabre Rainforest

Opening of VCO centre © Sofi Tucker Foundation

The Upper Guinean Rainforest constitutes a 350 km wide strip of West African coastal rainforest stretching from Sierra Leone to the Ghana-Togo border.The rainforest is listed as one of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s 25 Key Biodiversity Areas, a Conservation International I Biodiversity Hotspot, and a Birdlife International’s Important Bird Area (IBA). It is worth noting that IUCN 25 Key Biodiversity Areas cover only 1.4 % of the earth’s surface but contains more than 60% of all animal and plant species found on the planet. The rainforest is one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the African continent supporting over 1800 endemic plants, 31 endemic threatened birds, 35 endemic threatened mammals and 49 endemic threatened amphibians.

Situated within the Upper Guinean Rainforest, is the Kwabre Rainforest a 2,550-hectare corridor of community-owned virgin rainforest which lies along the Tanoé River, directly opposite to the Tanoé Forest in Côte d’Ivoire in Western Ghana. Kwabre is home to a number of Endangered primates including the white-naped mangabey (Cercocebus lunulatus), and the Critically Endangered Geoffrey’s black & white colobus (Colobus vellerosus) and Roloway monkey, both of which are listed on the Primates In Peril - 25 Most Endangered Primates of the World.

The West African Primate Conservation Action (WAPCA) a local NGO spearheaded by Heidelberg Zoo with the mission to safeguard endangered in primates in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, works with the communities living around Kwabre Rainforest, empowering them to govern a Community Resource Management Area (CREMA) which legally allows local communities to manage their natural resources and protect the Kwabre Rainforest from destruction.

The project has a number of objectives including protection of the 2500 ha community owned rainforest through a Community Resource Management Area (CREMA), reducing illegal activities in the rainforest through the training and implementation of community patrols, reforestation activities, developing sustainable community-managed agro-forestry plantations and laying foundation for a Trans-border Community-managed Forest Reserve between the Kwabre Rainforest in Ghana and the Tanoé Community Forests in Côte d’Ivoire. Lastly, the project seeks to develop sustainable livelihoods and promoting green value chains in organic cocoa and organic coconut oil.

Since WAPCA started working in the area in 2012, when a primate survey rediscovered a population of Roloway monkey thought to be locally extinct, it has, in partnership with the Swiss Centre of Scientific Research in Cote d’Ivoire and Noe’s Man & Nature achieved many of its objectives, with focus on how it can become sustainable in the long term.

CREMA is made of up two elected bodies, the Community Resource Management Committees (CRMC) which each community elects, and the Community Executive Committee (CEC) which has elected representatives of the different CRMCs. The CEC oversees all CRMCs and the CREMA. In 2014, CREMA was made up of 10 communities, by 2019, the number of communities has risen to 18, underlining support and interest in the project from neighbouring communities.

Towards Sustainability

The CREMA Executive Committee together with the Savannah Fruits Company (SFC) are part of a Conservation Agreement aimed at fostering conservation and economic development activities in the Ankasa-Tano region. The Agreement stipulates formalises the contribution of Savannah Fruits Company, to the Ankasa-Tano CREMA conservation efforts. SFC contributes a percentage of profits realized from the coconuts provided by the CREMA farmers to a Conservation Fund. The Conservation Agreement was signed in March 2020, with CREMA receiving their first cheque for their Conservation Fund.

Planting a tree sapling in the core zone of the forest © Sofi Tucker Foundation

To protect the forest, Community Rainforest Protection Teams have been instrumental in clamping down on the illegal activities. To aid this, the teams have recently been trained in Cybertracker – a free software for android phones. Through this software, patrols are able to protect the forest by monitoring patrol effort while collecting valuable data on biodiversity.

Undertaking reforestation entails creating a buffer zone for the forest, replanting degraded areas in the core zone of the forest and encouraging agroforestry. About 20,000 seedlings were planted in 2019. Farmers in the local communities received 11,500 seedlings while 7500 others were planted in the buffer zone. Additionally, 200 seedlings were planted in the core zone of the forest. These saplings are grown in community nurseries, and training given to local communities on how to maintain the nurseries.

Kwabre Rainforest location on the border of Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana makes it vulnerable to illegal transboundary activities. To mitigate this problem, a transboundary steering committee was formed with representatives from both countries to establish a transboundary forest management plan and joint patrols. The establishment of this transboundary plan allows for patrols from either country to apprehend illegal operators regardless of that person’s origins or the source of the illegal lumber and confiscate materials and levy fines. Joint patrols are active, and the management plan is in its final drafts. Once finalised it will be signed by all stakeholders including partners’ government officials.

Improving Livelihoods

Since 2017 WAPCA has been working in partnership with Noè, a French NGO to develop sustainable livelihoods and green value chains. The overall aim of this partnership is three-fold including promoting conservation efforts alongside the communities socio-economic needs, promoting good agricultural practices and ensuring sustainability of conservation efforts.

WAPCA is working with SFC which produces organic coconut oil in their processing centre near the project area to implement a green value chain… Farmer groups have been formed and certification trainings and processes have been completed. SFC has started buying coconut at a premium. The construction of a CREMA organic coconut oil processing centre is now complete, on land acquired by CREMA, and the process of registering and training of women in the communities on processing the oil has begun. Once the centre commences operation, it will create employment in the communities thereby improving the local economy and thus reducing pressure on the forest.

VCO processing centre © Sofi Tucker Foundation

“Working with SFC on organic coconut initiative has improved my livelihood and that of farmers enrolled in the organic coconut projects earn better premium than our fellow compatriot and also have a ready market as SFC buys our coconut. Previously we sold the coconuts at prices given to us by the Nigerian buyers, but because of the presence of SFC and the organic project, we now negotiate our price plus a premium which has improve on my life.” Says JK Menla a coconut farmer in Ellenda “The processing centre established is another good thing in the community, as a number of female processors including my wife have been trained and are looking forward to the commencement of production which will also help improve economic activities within the community, and the livelihood of the processors including my household”, adds Menla.

Developing an organic cocoa green value chain is critical in improving livelihoods in the region. Yayra Glover, a private sector company is working with the CREMA on the organic cocoa green value chain. To date, 516 farmers from 13 communities encompassing a total of 400 farms and covering on 2,497 acres have been registered.

A full-time field officer has been appointed to train the farmers and ensure that all the organic standards are adhered to so far, 54 trainings and 3 demonstrations have been conducted. The trainings are also focused on addressing child labor issues, deforestation and good agronomic practices to promote the protection of flora and fauna in the designated organic enclave.

“I personally love the program even though I had doubts at the start but, the regular visit and training by the Field Officer on the implementation and convention of various farms into organic farms and the evidence manifestation of the results in my farm and other farms made me to love the program. We are taught not only organic cocoa farming, but also logistics and best farm practices. Even though purchase of cocoa has not yet begun, I am confident myself and the entire farmer groups will enjoy or witness economic livelihood empowerment as soon as the buying begins.” says Emmanuel Fedenkor, a coca farmer in Kwabre.

Since conventional farming methods were used hence utilization of high levels of chemicals, it will take three years before the farms can be certified as organic. However, Yayra Glover has made it known that during the conversion period, the cocoa will be bought as “organic in conversion” which will be bought at a rate higher than the conventional cocoa. Additionally, Yayra Glover and the CREMA are drafting a Conservation Agreement.

The on-going success of the project has had a significant impact on the survival of three highly threatened primates’ species, which losing habitat at an alarming rate and facing the real threat of extinction. The project is also geared towards reducing poverty levels through improving the communities’ their socio-economic standing and sustain the ecosystems that the local people rely on. Sustainability of the project is critical, and with the introduction of the Conservation Agreement into the project landscape, there is an opportunity to realize this for the local communities and the forest ecosystem for generations to come.