The people living in and near the Bia Biosphere Reserve, in Ghana, are highly dependent on what the forest can provide for their livelihoods. They are mainly cocoa farmers, and used to harvest wild honey, mushrooms and other non-timber forest products during the lean season to supplement their income. This practice, combined with the population growth in the area, put a strain on the biosphere reserve and led to an alarming rate of depletion. UNESCO and the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) worked with the local community to implement green economy initiatives in the biosphere reserve in order to provide income alternatives while reducing the local population’s overreliance on forest resources. The ultimate goal is to improve local communities’ socio-economic status while conserving biodiversity.
The project “Green Economy in Biosphere Reserves (GEBR): A means to biodiversity conservation, poverty reduction and sustainable development in sub-Saharan Africa” was implemented in three Biosphere Reserves: Bia (Ghana), Omo (Nigeria) and East Usambara (Tanzania). It was launched in Ghana in September 2013, with extensive consultations with the local population, to identify feasible and preferred livelihood options. The activities identified were: mushroom production, bee-keeping, snail rearing and palm oil production. In all, 235 direct beneficiaries, including 91 women, were supported and trained to undertake these green alternatives. In order to ensure sustainability of their livelihoods, they were also trained in bookkeeping, marketing and packaging and on how to invest profits back into their businesses.
Apart from the training, beneficiaries were given start-up equipment such as beehives, protective clothing for harvesting honey, snail-pens and mushroom cropping houses. Palm fruit processing centres were built in two communities near the Bia Biosphere Reserve, Elluokrom and Essuopri. These are the communities with the highest number of persons – most of them women – who depend on palm oil production for their livelihoods. “The palm oil processing machines has made my work more efficient” explains Nana Abena Ataah. “I’m now able to extract more volumes of palm oil which I sell to obtain a good income.” To show their commitments to the project and demonstrate ownership, the chiefs of Elluokrom and Essuopri donated the plots of lands for the palm fruit processing centres.
In addition, a mushroom incubator house was constructed at the Bia Biosphere Reserve headquarters in Kunkumso to ensure the sustainability of the production and a supply of inoculated mushroom substrates to the beneficiaries. “Before the introduction of the project, cocoa faming was my only source of income” says Georgina Kyeremaah. “I therefore had financial difficulties during the cocoa farming off-seasons. Since taking up the mushroom production livelihood, I now produce and sell mushroom to augment my income during the farming off-seasons.”
The project has had a positive impact on the socio-economic status of the beneficiaries who were able to diversify form cocoa farming without depleting the local natural resources. The local communities have also become more aware of the importance of biodiversity and hence of the biosphere reserve to their own existence. Mr. Richard Boakye, Assistant Bia Biosphere Reserve Manager and Community Relations Officer observed: “Since 2013, we do not have a record of any beneficiary entering the core/conservation area to extract any resource, whether wildlife or forest resources. So clearly, the project is helping to preserve the biosphere reserve.”
This project is one example of the many ways biosphere reserves promote solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use around the world.