Challenges and potential for landscape approaches in Northern Ghana

Preserving biodiversity by involving local communities in sustainable use of nature
Clearing of new farms near the CREMA of Murugu-mognori. Photos by Eric Bayala

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From illegal logging to wildlife poaching, uncontrolled agricultural expansion, poor coordination among agencies and closed processes – the list of challenges facing people living and working in shared landscapes in Northern Ghana is long and complex.

These challenges potentially undermine resource sustainability and efforts to conserve valuable biodiversity, stakeholders said during a scoping trip led by team members from the Collaborating to Operationalize Landscape Approaches for Nature, Development and Sustainability (COLANDS) project.

COLANDS aims to operationalize a landscape approach to natural resource governance in Northern Ghana, with this initial scoping designed to engage local stakeholders and identify appropriate research sites in the region.

While acknowledging challenges, stakeholders agreed that a focus on improving living conditions for local populations could provide a sound base for more effective biodiversity conservation.

“The main challenge is to improve the economic conditions of local communities – in that way, they will better protect natural resources,” a project manager with non-governmental organization (NGO) A Rocha told COLANDS team members studying three particular areas in Northern Ghana.

“People need to be more involved in the governance system,” added a member of the Community Resources Management Committee (CRMC) in the village of Napalga.

Ghana, along with Indonesia and Zambia, were identified by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) as locations for the COLANDS project. The scoping mission in northern Ghana concluded that project implementation sites should give priority to CREMA landscapes – that is, community-based natural resource management areas. The CREMA model was established by Ghana’s government in the early 2000s, to try to preserve biodiversity by involving local communities in the protection and sustainable use of nature.

   Interview with the project manager of the NGO “A ROCHA Ghana”. Photo by Eric Bayala
   ): Interview with some community leaders within the Eastern Biodiversity Corridor community. Photo by Eric Bayala

Northern Ghana is the country’s largest landlocked area and occupies almost 60 percent of the country. The climate is hot and dry with only one rainy season, due to its proximity to the Sahel region. The landscape is dominated by vast areas of grassland, with scattered savannah woodland characterized by drought-resistant trees such as shea (Vitellaria paradoxa), African locust bean (Parkia biglobosa), baobab (Adansonia digitata) and acacia.

Significant challenges confronting sustainable land use include: bush fires; illegal logging (especially for valuable rosewood – Pterocarpus erinaceous); charcoal production; wildlife poaching; gold panning; agricultural expansion into forest reserves and the activities of pastoralists, particularly the Fulani herdsmen, say people in the three areas visited by COLANDS. These three key areas are the Mole Ecological Landscape, Eastern Wildlife Corridor and the Western Wildlife Corridor. Just one will be chosen for more in-depth research, based on the potential for COLANDS to add value to ongoing landscape management initiatives led by local stakeholders.

Those challenges are perpetuated by high rates of poverty across the Northern Savanna ecological zone, leaving people highly dependent on natural resources. That creates competition among land-users as government agencies and NGOs prioritize conservation and sustainable resource use; while local residents aim to improve their living conditions and private companies search for profit.

Rivalries between commercial interests exploiting the landscape’s resources create havoc, some people say. Conflicts of interest are reported, especially around the exploitation of rosewood. Concerns have developed over sustainability of several NGO projects. Furthermore, despite efforts to keep local communities at the centre of governance and of natural resource management, residents say serious challenges undermine the sustainability of these resources. That increasingly leads to landscape modification and fragmentation.

   A view of the Mole National Park landscape. Photo by Eric Bayala
   Bags of charcoal on sale on the outskirts of the Mole National Park. Photo by Eric Bayala

“Communities are unable to own initiatives; when projects end, there is no continuity (with other projects),” said an official working in the Mole National Park.

Weak coordination between government agencies in conservation efforts causes serious problems; and the absence of an adequate multi-stakeholder platform to facilitate engagement between stakeholders is a major challenge, adds a representative of the White Volta Basin Board of the Water Resources Commission in Ghana’s Upper East region.

Interviews in Murugu and Napalga villages revealed another challenge – a rivalry between contemporary and traditional governance of natural resources. There are concerns that a lack of harmony and neglect of certain management rules is leading to the unsustainable use of resources.

Yet, institutional actors say that illegal activities and conflicts have declined since participation in governance systems through CREMAs has increased. As a result, local populations have become more involved in governing their own natural resource management areas, benefiting from capacity building and gaining knowledge about the need to protect landscape resources. Some are now participating in surveillance patrols of biodiversity areas, in monitoring and control of natural resources, and development of plans for fire management and forest development.

The CREMA model has evolved to encompass many natural resources in off-reserve areas. That makes the model a potential governance mechanism for managing natural resources with the objective of achieving both biodiversity conservation and livelihoods outcomes for people.

   Clearing of new farms near the CREMA of Murugu-mognori. Photos by Eric Bayala
   Clearing of new farms near the CREMA of Murugu-mognori. Photos by Eric Bayala

That’s why the Wildlife Division of Ghana (WD), part of the Forestry Commission, recognizes CREMAs as important building blocks to establish effective wildlife corridors connecting Protected Areas. The WD has, for example, established six CREMAs within the Western Wildlife Corridor and intends to extend the model to cover the whole corridor, through the next phase of a World Bank-funded Sustainable Land and Water Management project.

“We want to engage every community into CREMA,” said a senior staff member from the WD central office in Accra. “We want to get a continuum of CREMAs throughout the corridor.”

The extent to which CREMAS can be successfully scaled up while adequately incorporating local concerns will be the subject of further research and discussions during future COLANDS activities in Northern Ghana.


COLANDS is part of the International Climate Initiative (IKI) and is funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU).

Ph.D. research is hosted at the Faculty of Forestry of the University of British Columbia and the Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR) of the University of Amsterdam.

For more information on this topic, please contact James Reed at
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