Alida and Eric are PhD candidates at the University of British Columbia and University of Amsterdam, respectively. They’re also colleagues in the Collaborating to Operationalise Landscape Approaches for Nature, Development and Sustainability (COLANDS) initiative, which chiefly works across three ‘study landscapes’: the Western Wildlife Corridor (WWC) in northern Ghana, Kalomo District in southern Zambia, and Indonesia’s Serian and Labian Leboyan watersheds in Kapuas Hulu, West Kalimantan. Below, they reflect on their field experiences in the Ghanaian and Zambian landscapes.
Alida: I have a vivid recollection of drinking from my water bottle after finishing my last interview for the day in northern Ghana. The water was hot from sitting out in the 42-degree Celsius heat. It was March 2023, a season characterized by hot and dry temperatures across the region.
Although the heat took some getting used to, I knew this period afforded an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. The rainy season would bring washed-out roads and a flurry of farming activity; during this dry season, it was easier to reach communities and people were more available to participate in interviews and focus group discussions. This was key to my work, which centers on listening and learning from diverse stakeholders.
My research focuses on understanding land-use priorities, who has power over these priorities, and collaborative natural resource governance, in Ghana’s Western Wildlife Corridor (WWC) and Kalomo District in Zambia. I now have experience in both landscapes, allowing me to see some similarities – and differences – between the two. In terms of commonalities, both landscapes face challenges from unpredictable rainfall patterns, deforestation driven by charcoal production and agriculture, conflicting policies and disputed land boundaries, heavy dependence on chemical fertilizer, and siltation of rivers.
Eric: My research focuses on community engagement in landscape governance and prospects for operationalizing integrated landscape approaches (ILAs) in northern Ghana. I’m particularly interested in: inclusiveness in decision-making processes within Community Resource Management Areas (CREMAs) there; land-use conflicts; perceptions of local stakeholders on landscape governance; and multi-stakeholder platforms.
In Ghana, I have seen how urbanization poses a threat to the multifunctionality of landscapes, as growing towns and cities eat into productive land and grazing areas. I also observed this in Burkina Faso, which borders Ghana. There, some natural landscapes that were once forested and provided ecosystem goods for local populations, such as the Gonsé forested landscape, have almost disappeared. They’re replaced by more homogeneous landscapes largely dominated by human activities and settlements favoured by urbanization.
Alida: While I observed many similarities, I also noted how the specific challenges that manifest in each landscape can be very different from one another. For instance, sustaining the natural resources needed for women’s livelihood activities was a concern and top priority expressed by women in both countries. But their circumstances were quite different. In northern Ghana, harvesting shea, African locust bean, and baobab trees is an important source of income for women, which is threatened by deforestation due to charcoal production, clearing for new farms, illegal mining, and bushfires. Meanwhile, in Zambia, vegetable gardens managed by women provide nutritious food and income for household needs; however, water scarcity and soil fertility are making these gardens increasingly difficult to maintain.
Alida O’Connor (far right) takes part in a meeting with members of Siankwembo Village in Kalomo District, Zambia. Photo by CIFOR-ICRAF
Eric: In northern Ghana, rivalry also exists over the collection of non-timber forest products (NTFP), particularly between women and young men, and this is an additional constraint on women’s income. An increasing number of young men, for example, are getting involved in the collection of shea nuts – previously the monopoly of women – because of the economic value of these nuts and the lack of jobs for young people. I have spoken with several young people who say that it’s difficult for them to find work, despite being educated – other than in jobs exploiting the land and forests. What’s more, farming activities are linked to the rainy season; in the dry season, water constraints make it difficult to carry out off-season activities such as vegetable growing and tending tree nurseries.
Northern Ghana is also characterized by certain unique social dynamics and power relations, including the tension between Fulani herdsmen and communities and the power of tindanas (traditional land custodians) in overseeing rural land use. As the Fulani herders are stigmatized and marginalized within local communities, it is difficult to visit this part of the country without hearing complaints that illustrate this tension, or observing it yourself.
Alida: Understanding the nuances that shape these landscapes takes time, but I quickly learned how vital team members and collaborators are to this process. In Ghana, I was fortunate that my fieldwork overlapped with work by various members of the COLANDS Ghana team. Travelling with the team, I was introduced to local partners and stakeholders with whom the team have built relationships over many years. These relationships and familiarity helped participants understand why I was there, and what they would be contributing to if they agreed to be interviewed.
Besides the benefits of building upon the work of my team members, they are also a great sounding board for my research ideas. I especially valued the camaraderie that grew from long car rides and meals together – those moments were a great way to debrief, unwind and share ideas.
Eric Bayala (left) facilitates a focus group discussion in Zukpeni, northern Ghana. Photo by Kenneth Afagachie/CIFOR-ICRAF
Eric: After more than four years working alongside local communities and institutional actors as part of my PhD research and COLANDS activities, I’ve created familiarity and built trust and bonds of friendship with these stakeholders. Many now understand the importance of our work in terms of contributing to biodiversity conservation and the development of people’s livelihoods. As a result, Alida’s work was readily accepted by local stakeholders, especially since her work is complementary to mine and so it was familiar to people.
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). PhD research that is part of COLANDS is hosted at the Institute for Social Science Research of the University of Amsterdam and the University of British Columbia.
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