For five years now, the global community has been observing the International Day of Forests on March 21. It is an occasion to celebrate the wide range of economic and social benefits that forests and trees bring to humankind. Since joining the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) as its president in July 2016, I have been paying lots of attention to forests in West Africa, which is the world’s leading source of cocoa. These tropical forests, and others like them around the world, play an indispensable role in fighting global climate change by storing carbon. They also meet vital local needs, by cooling temperatures, helping generate rainfall, and purifying the air and water. Healthy forests help rural communities thrive. The paradox is that, over the last 10 years, life-giving forests in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana were felled at an alarming rate as cocoa farmers, faced with challenges such as low prices, climate change, and low productivity, have expanded the land area on which they grow cocoa. The crop, essential for the chocolate and cocoa products that many of us love, is now seen as a major driver of deforestation in these countries.
Over the past decade, delivery systems for safety net programs in developing countries, particularly in Africa, have been largely paper-based. Social assistance projects in these settings often conjured pictures of tedious long lines to fill out paper registration and attendance forms, ink-based thumb printing to receive payments, manual verification of beneficiaries using a combination of different ID cards, as well as high levels of unintentional administrative errors, corruption and fraud.
The world’s climate is changing, and is projected to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The impact of climate change will be particularly felt in agriculture, as rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, and increased pests and diseases pose new and bigger risks to the global food system. Simply put, climate change will make food security and poverty reduction even more challenging in the future.
At the beginning of September, Ghana’s Ministry of Finance brought the heads of State-owned Enterprises (SOEs) to deliberate how to reform SOEs, some of them loss-making, in order to have them play a more strategic role in Ghana’s development.
As reported in the local press, the Vice President of Ghana, Mahamudu Bawumia (who gave the keynote address to the Policy and Governance Forum) was very candid in his directive: “Share with government not your many challenges, which we all know [about], but your strategies,” he is reported to have said, referring to strategies for ensuring financial discipline, for exploring access to new sources of capital, and for improving commercial viability.
When a mini-grid project came to Atigagome, a remote island in the middle of Ghana’s Lake Volta, the kerosene lamps people had been using became decorative pieces that were hung on the walls—a reminder that the island’s days of darkness were over. But the village not only gave up kerosene lamps and candles: it also attracted people like Seth Hormuku, who migrated to the island once a stable electricity supply was being provided to the local community.
In East Africa and West Africa, about 300 million people living in dryland areas rely on natural, resource-based activities for their livelihood. By 2030, this number could increase to 540 million. At the same time, climate change could result in an expansion of Africa’s drylands by as much as 20%.
Much of West Africa’s population lives along its coastline, where many of its capital cities are located. But though rising seawaters erode it, a study says the “sand river” they create can also protect it.
In Ghana, coastal erosion and rising seas are burying some seaside villages, like Fuveme, which is now completely under sand. As in neighboring countries, hydrocarbon exploration is well underway not too far from the shore, and coastal urban areas are expanding. The fish stock has declined dramatically, and formerly thriving fishing communities are in trouble.
This is the first blog in a series on forests and livelihoods.
Africa’s forests, landscapes, and ecosystems have many contributions to development. They contribute directly to the well-being and food security of poor people. According to the World Bank Forest Action Plan, the impact of forests on poverty is greatest in Africa, with forest-related income lifting 11% of rural households out of extreme poverty. Forests also supply critical raw materials needed to grow the economy, provide habitat to rich flora and fauna, regulate hydrology, and sequester carbon.
A good number of African governments have shown how technologically-forward thinking they are by announcing one-tablet-per-child initiatives in their countries. President John recently announced that tablets for Ghana’s schoolchildren were at the center of his campaign to improve academic standards. Last year, President Kenyatta of Kenya abandoned a laptop project for tablets.