Farmers and tree tenure

Concerned about farmers’ grievances over timber companies’ refusal to act legally and ask their permission before felling trees on their farms, Friends of the Earth Ghana has made a short film to document the farmers’ concerns and to provide us with a tool to raise awareness and campaign for their concerns to be addressed. The film is part of the Green Livelihoods Alliance Ghana project and the broader Green Livelihoods Alliance in nine countries across the world.

In Ghana, trees growing on farmers’ and communities’ lands outside the forest reserves have traditionally been nurtured by the the farmers and other landusers. The trees provide benefits, especially on cocoa farms as this crop grows better with some shade from the hot sun. Farmers have been encouraged to protect the trees for these and many other benefits they bring. Timber companies can fell these trees, but only after gaining permission from the farmer or other landuser, and then, if they agree, only after negotiating and agreeing a payment from the timber company to the farmers in respect of the tree and in respect of any damage done to the farmers’ crops. If both these conditions are not met, the timber company is acting illegally. Unfortunately this is all too common because the companies know the farmers and communities do not have the capacity to take action.

Farmers and communites are rightly deeply aggrieved due to this unfair treatment by the timber companies and are not interested in nurturing the trees. The upshot is that farmers and communities fell the trees themselves to ensure they get the benefit of a payment for it. They can also decide when is the best time to fell the tree, but the timber companies fell the trees anytime and anyhow.

Farmers would prefer to nurture and protect the trees, which also brings benefits to wildlife, the environment, and communities, as well as providing a whole range of environmental services such as climate change mitigation and water cycling. But the actions of the timber companies discourages them from doing so.

Besides illegally felling the trees and causing great damage to farmers’ crops, the timber companies also leave huge parts of the trees across the farmers’ land and crops. These are the parts that are no use to the companies for converting into timber products. The farmers are not able to remove this on their own because it is too large. This affects farmers’ access to the land and reduces the area they are able to grow crops on.

The government is now establishing a Tree Tenure and Benefit Sharing mechanism that should ensure farmers and communities benefit from the trees growing on their farms.

You can watch the documentary below