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In the forested parklands in northern Ghana and southern Burkina Faso lie diverse mosaics of cultivated fields mixed with useful trees, fallows, remnant woodlands and forest reserves. Within this ‘forest-farm interface’, it can be difficult to both understand and articulate how people use resources, and the challenges that they face.

Policy-makers, development agencies and funders have thus tended to overlook the importance of this complex landscape as successful, sustainable and biodiverse agroforestry systems. As a result, policies and programs treat forests and agriculture separately. Rather than build on the advantages of these multifunctional systems, they instead focus on the intensification of agriculture or conservation of forests, when they should be strengthening or improving the existing, successful smallholder systems.

The West Africa Forest-Farm Interface (WAFFI) project is working to change this mindset. The collaborative initiative involving the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), and Tree Aid seeks to inform policy makers of what smallholders are already doing right, and where policy should focus to make lasting changes.

“The convoluted land and tree tenure systems affect intra household decision making of men and women, which is basically how households bargain with each other,” said Peter Cronkleton, WAFFI lead and Senior Scientist at Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Add to this the differences between men and women in their access to trees and land for farming, then the challenges to conservation and development initiatives become “particularly striking.”

The overlap of official and customary tenure systems – where land is held and allocated by leaders and where women traditionally have access rights to trees but depend on men that control the land – presents institutional challenges that hamper land restoration and bushfire control. This is especially prevalent when policy decisions are made without community consultation or consideration of the complex land-use mosaic found at the forest-farm interface.

Every Friday for the next seven weeks, Forests News will feature seven voices from the forest-farm interface, from the two countries and twelve communities in which WAFFI works.


Trees “for the grandchildren” in a community forest

Bibata Ouedrago, Séloghin, Department of Nobéré, Burkina Faso

The Kaboré Tambi National Park was classified as a park in southern Burkina Faso in 1986, but it wasn’t until 1997 that enforcement of the management plan of the Park began. After that, the forest resources it contained were no longer accessible to people in surrounding communities. The people of Séloghin, about 20 kilometres from the park, became aware that access to the tree resources in the park was restricted. The community is quite far from any extensive forest areas, and villagers noticed that some important plant and tree species were disappearing from the landscape. In response and on their own, they decided to create their own forest – a community forest – by protecting seedlings that were growing naturally, and to plant a few other trees to fill the “gaps” in the tree cover. Today, they have not one but two community forests in Séloghin – one 15 hectares and the other 10 with a wide range of trees and shrubs.  The WAFFI project is assisting the community to articulate the value of these local forests and to share their experience with neighbouring villages. Without the community forest, Bibata Ouedraogo tells us, “our children would not have known those plants.”

WATCH Part II: Losing farmland and forest to a national park

WATCH Part III: Keeping the peace in a national park buffer zone

WATCH Part IV: Trees and wildfire worries

WATCH Part V: Firewood for income in a degrading landscape


This research was supported by International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
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