Major public-private sector Ghana venture aims to help deliver cocoa sustainability

A major €2.3 million initiative between public sector, private sector and civil groups is being launched into key aspects of sustainability surrounding Ghana’s cocoa industry, in a bid to ensure its future viability, reports Neill Barston.

The Accessible Soils And Sustainable Environments (ASASE) project will work towards key environmental goals including tackling deforestation, as well as seeking to revitalise ageing cocoa farms, as well as restoring forested areas that have been notably impacted.

As the combined group behind the venture explained to Confectionery Production, ASASE, which means “land” in the local Ghanaian language Twi, the scheme has been co-funded by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) as part of the  Sustainable Development Goals Partnership (SDGP), a set of targets adopted by all UN member states established in 2015 to address global poverty and protect the planet.

Consequently, the project has been based on the belief that a thriving, climate-smart cocoa sector is possible, the project will work with 5,000 farmers in two of Ghana’s main cocoa producing areas: the Ashanti and Eastern regions.

Using a landscape approach, the ASASE project moves away from the traditional focus on the direct supply chain and instead intervenes on 3 levels: working together with cocoa farmers, their rural communities and in local forest remnants.

Among its key components, farmers will receive instruction and trainings on agroforestry practices, as well as land and tree tenure documentation to improve the long-term security of their farms.

Furthermore, the project will facilitate the conservation of forests and the reforestation of degraded areas through approaches such as Payment for Ecosystem Services, where farmers receive (in-kind) value in return for their efforts to protect or even re-build forests around their cocoa farms. A considerable volume of the cocoa yielded from these operations is destined for the confectionery sector, chocolate markets and wider food industry.

As the combined group noted, ASASE tackles a pressing issue: currently, 800,000 households across Ghana (3.6 million people) rely on cocoa for their livelihoods, but the country is at high risk of deforestation, making the commitment to prevent further conversion of any land for cocoa production imperative.

The lower rainfall and rising temperatures that accompany deforestation risk not only reducing cocoa yields, but also affect subsistence crops, and without tree cover, cocoa farms are exposed to harsh sunlight that can damage trees. Meanwhile, natural forests capture carbon dioxide, increase biodiversity and improve soil quality, providing ecosystem services that entire communities benefit from.

Bringing together diverse national and international stakeholders is an important step towards creating an
environmentally sustainable cocoa sector, building on the existing sector-wide Cocoa and Forest Initiative’s (CFI)
efforts to end deforestation and restore forest areas. The documentation of land and tree rights to make cocoa
production more sustainable in the long term demonstrates ASASE’s particularly innovative approach and strategy
to drive long-lasting change.

From the public sector, the Ghanaian Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources (MLNR) will be working to ensure
the project aligns with national policy and will use the outcomes to develop future policies to ensure the longevity
of this important work, while civil society organisation TropenBos Ghana bring a wealth of technical expertise in
the development of environmental trainings for farmers, as well as their extensive local network.

Meanwhile from the private sector, Meridia, West-Africa’s land rights specialist, will be leading the provision of
land and tree tenure rights for farmers – which has previously been highlighted by sector observers as being a crucial element of delivering sustainability.

The organisation is dedicated to securing affordable land rights for smallholder  farmers at scale and has spent the past 5 years developing the highly successful FarmSeal and TreeSeal tools for the Ghanaian context, providing farmers with security of land tenure through customary land certificates and the freedom to take care of their trees.

Finally, leading the partnership, is commodity trading house Export Trading Group (ETG) and their associated
sustainability foundation Beyond Beans (formerly Cocoanect), whose leadership team bring over 25 years of
experience working in sustainability in the cocoa sector.

As the group noted, it is hoped that with this joint effort, the project is designed to create maximum impact at all levels, paving the way for a cocoa sector where cocoa farming can thrive alongside Ghana’s natural environment.

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