Climate change impact on agriculture: is REDD+ the solution?

AgricUndoubtedly, the economy of Ghana is deeply reliant on climate-sensitive areas such as agriculture, forestry and water resources.

Despite this, overwhelming evidence suggests that climate change is occurring as a result of human activities such as unsustainable agricultural practices including slash and burn; illegal mining and logging; indiscriminate bush burning; improper land use and the burning of fossil fuels.

These activities releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere resulting in climate change which manifests itself in various forms such as extreme temperatures, erratic rainfall patterns, melting of the glaciers which causes high sea levels and flooding.

Indirect drivers of deforestation and forest degradation may include ineffectual policies, population increase, poverty, selfishness and greed. The result of all these this is the high deforestation rate of about two per cent per annum.

Ghana’s intact forest sector according to the Forestry Commission has dwindled from about 8.2 million hectares in 1900s to about 1.5 million hectares in the 2010s.

For example, the Pamu Berekum Forest Reserved area, which stood at 189km2 in 1932, degraded to 91km2 losing about 98km2 in 58 years.

The forest area as at 2000, stood at just 1km2 and losing about 90km2 in 10 years.

Climate change according to the Forestry Commission is a long-term shift in the average weather conditions of a specific location, region or planet. The shift is measured by changes in features associated with weather, such as temperature, wind patterns and precipitation.

Climate Change occurring presently is attributable to an increase in global temperature arising from an increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere beyond their natural levels.

The potential impact of climate change is enormous. For health, weather-related mortalities, infectious diseases and air-quality respiratory illnesses may be suffered by humans and others.

In the area of agriculture, low crop yields and inability to meet irrigation demands are but a few of the climate change impact in the sector. Its impact on forests may bring change in forest composition, shift geographic range of forests and forest health and productivity.

Water resources are a very important component of human survival but climate change impact on these resources may bring about changes in water supply, water quality and increased composition for water.

Coastal areas may suffer erosion of beaches, inundation of coastal lands and increased cost to protect coastal communities while species and natural areas may experience a shift in ecological zones and loss of habitat and species as a result of climate change.

Developing countries are most vulnerable to the impact of climate change in the sense that their livelihoods are highly dependent on climate sensitive sectors such as agriculture. Deforestation has also become a major problem in developing countries.

Ghana is witnessing very high temperatures and inconsistent rainfall patterns, which attest to the fact that climate change is very much present.

Peasant farmers especially in northern Ghana practice rain-fed agriculture and depend on the weather patterns for their farming activities. Therefore, any slight change in rainfall patterns negatively affects crop yields.

In view of this, the government has developed a National Climate Change Policy Framework through a consultative process.

The policy framework has three main objectives: Adaptation and reduced vulnerability to impact of climate change; mitigating the impacts of climate change and low carbon growth.

Ghana has now joined the international REDD+ readiness process through the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility. REDD+ means Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation plus conservation, sustainable forest management and enhancement of carbon stocks.

REDD + is an international mechanism that seeks to create incentives for forest-rich developing countries to protect and better manage their forest resources as one of the pathways for addressing climate change.

Many Ghanaians are not aware of this mechanism and its relevance. For this to happened, civil society and the media have a key role to play to complement government’s efforts.

In this regard, Civic Response (CR) through its stakeholder capacity building programme organised the 2015 Media Practitioners Workshop on the theme: “Civil Society Monitoring of Forest Governance in Ghana: the Role of the Media.”

Despite the proliferation of the media in Ghana, very little attention is given to the forest sector and this CR is trying to change by building the capacity of players to understand and engage in proper analysis of the issues in order to educate the public accordingly.

The workshop sought to help participants to reflect on current trends in the forest sector, introduced participants to the legal framework for forest in Ghana, and developed strategies for media monitoring of forest governance.

Additionally, the workshop strengthened the network of media practitioners who intervene in forest sector development in Ghana.

Mr Kwame Agyei, an official of the National REDD+ Secretariat of the Forestry Commission enlightened participants on the REDD+ and its implications for tenure, benefit sharing and food security.

He said Ghana is committed to a low carbon development pathway and REDD+ is acknowledged as one of the means to achieve that desired state.

After agreeing to the scope of REDD+, developing countries were encouraged to contribute to mitigation actions in the forest sector by undertaking activities to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation, conservation of forest carbon stocks, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

REDD+ key intervention areas

Improving land use and the socio-economic development in the high forest zone and cocoa growing areas and addressing wood harvesting and unsustainable agricultural practices in the transition and savannah zones are key intervention of Ghana’s national REDD+ strategy.

In addition to that there are policy and legislative reforms to support REDD+ as well as sustainable forestry among others.

Issues of Tenure and its impact on forest management

On the issue of tenure, Mr Agyei portrayed bundle of rights (ownership, user etc.) associated with a particular resource such as land, tree, and carbon among others.

Classification of tenure, he said is very important for forest management on two major fronts including reduced conflicts and aiding in the design of robust/equitable benefits sharing frameworks.

He mentioned complex and legally pluralistic tenure arrangements, the rights of key stakeholders such as local communities and farmers who are generally not recognised and the creation of uncertainty for investors for forest management initiatives such as REDD+ as key issues on tenure which have affected forest management in Ghana over the years.

Key tenure issues being spearheaded by Ghana’s REDD+ process include; promotion of reforms of tenure to ensure clear specifications of rights for all key stakeholders, national policy and legal framework for tree tenure expected to be developed by 2017 and carbon to be treated as an ecosystem service.

Financial incentives and co-benefits are the two broad categories of benefits to be shared under the REDD+ benefit sharing framework.

Agriculture and Food Security

Mr Agyei noted that forests create conducive environment for agriculture and that sustainable agriculture practices could deliver livelihoods, which could contribute to reducing pressure on forest resources.

He said continual forest degradation and deforestation poses significant challenge to food security in Ghana, adding that there is therefore the need for landscape-wide management, which incorporates climate smart agriculture such as agro forestry, yield improvement and forest conservation.

Considerations are integral in Ghana’s REDD+ Strategy and the emerging Emission Reduction Programme focussed on cocoa landscapes HFZ, he said.

The Savannah belt is fast losing its meagre forest cover to bad practices such as bush burning, inappropriate farming practices, over grazing by cattle, charcoal burning and illegal chainsaw activities.

The Upper West Region has 16 forest reserves gazetted in two forest districts namely; Tumu and Lawra in the whole region. These forest reserves were created with the aim of reserving water catchment areas, hilly areas and some fragile ecosystems and as a result do not qualify for logging.

Mr Joseph Bempah, Assistant Upper West Regional Manager of the Forestry Commission said there are issues about stealing of mahogany and rosewoods.

Ghana stands to gain financially from the REDD+ mechanism if the country is able to reduce emissions.

Destruction of the forest cover would bring about climate change which would have disastrous effect on agriculture leading to food insecurity.

Ghanaians should therefore protect their forests or plant a tree today and be proud of contributing to securing Ghana’s future or destroy the forest and be part of the monsters against the aspirations of the nation.

When the last tree dies the last man on earth dies as well.

By Prosper K. Kuorsoh

Source: GNA

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