Female cocoa farmers challenge Ghanaian tree tenure law

Female cocoa farmers challenge Ghanaian tree tenure law

Ghana - 14 June, 2023
Koen KustersKoen Kusters

A law in Ghana stipulates that all naturally growing trees are owned by the state. In 2022, female cocoa farmers collaborated with Tropenbos Ghana to draw attention to the adverse effects of this law on their livelihoods.

Allowing trees to grow within cocoa farms could help prolong the productive lifespan of the cocoa plantation and provide farmers with timber. However, many Ghanaian cocoa farmers neglect trees that grow spontaneously in their fields. This is because all naturally occurring trees are considered to be owned by the state, even if they grow on farmers’ fields. If a farmer cannot prove that a tree was planted, the state can provide a logging company with a licence to harvest the tree. Although the company is required to seek the farmer’s written consent before logging, this obligation is often ignored. The company obtains the tree, the government receives a fee, and the farmer gets nothing.

Tropenbos Ghana has been providing training to cocoa farmers in the Juabeso-Bia and Sefwi-Wiawso landscapes to empower them to assert their rights when logging companies fail to obtain their consent to harvest trees on their land. Following one of these training sessions, a cooperative of women cocoa farmers resolved to send a strong message to the government, emphasizing the negative impacts of existing tree tenure legislation. They believed it was crucial for farmers themselves to advocate for change and exert pressure on the government. They asked Tropenbos Ghana to help them.

As a first step, they contacted other women’s cooperatives to join forces. Together, they developed a statement and organized a press event. Their goal was to generate media attention, believing this to be the most effective way to communicate their message to the government. In conjunction with Tropenbos Ghana, they carefully formulated their message, invited journalists and made arrangements for the occasion.

On 10 August 2022, representatives from three women’s cooperatives addressed a room filled with journalists from various newspapers, as well as radio and television stations. Their message was unequivocal: they believe that the government is depriving them of the benefits of the trees that grow on their land.

The message resonated with the journalists, who covered the story on various media platforms across the country. This pushed the issue higher on the government’s agenda. Several months after the press event, the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources asked Tropenbos Ghana for help with developing a way to address the farmers’ concerns. The new arrangement will require logging companies to share a percentage of their profits with farmers whose lands they harvest trees from. It is expected to come into effect in 2023.

It is a solution that will help address farmers’ concerns in the short term. In the long term, however, Tropenbos Ghana believes that farmers should own the trees on their land and be able to reap the full benefits from them. Tropenbos Ghana will, therefore, continue to advocate for an amendment to the law concerning tree tenure (the Concession Act of 1962), together with local actors such as the cooperatives of women cocoa farmers in the Juabeso-Bia and Sefwi-Wiawso landscapes.

This article is part of the TBI Annual review 2022.