In Ghana natural resources are seen generally as belonging solely to the government. People destroy natural resources through various activities such as land degradation, deforestation, illegal mining in forest reserves, among others, without any thought on survival of the ecosystem. The phenomenon of "it belongs to the government" creates a worrying trend that puts the environment in a bad state. For instance, data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations reveal that deforestation has been identified as a critical environmental issue and Ghana has lost more than 33.7% of its forests, equivalent to 2,500,000 hectares, since the early 1990s. Activities such as small-scale agriculture, timber harvesting, land conversion and mining are the principal drivers in Ghana.
An innovative solution which puts communities at the helm of managing natural resources, called Community Resource Management Area (CREMA) is making progress in addressing the problem. With CREMA communities, become organised and thoughtful in relation to natural resources utilisation. In effect, it encourages thoughtful decision making processes which are catalysed due to the structures put in place and organisations and governments have the desire to work with communities under CREMA. It is also seen to be more effective by local government authority because in a CREMA area, the communities are organised in terms of leadership, where meetings can be held, it is not only about natural resources, but brings forth benefits to a broader developmental objective for the community.
In that sense, it has been seen as a very important building block for REDD+ aimed at reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation due to its organised unit. "And if you really want to see results on communities taking actions in natural resources, you cannot but just to go to an organised community who already have appreciation for nature and who already have the necessary instrument which you can ask them to undertake activities and can benefit also from the management services they put in place," says Daryl Bosu, the Deputy National Director for Arocha, a conservation Non-governmental Organisation (NGO).
The CREMA in Perspective
The CREMA is an institutional framework developed by the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission of Ghana which dates as far back as 2000, in what was known as the Collaborative Resource Management Policy. The policy was geared towards creating the opportunity for the sustainable management of natural resources in off reserved areas, particularly paying attention to communities that were on the fringes of protected areas. This include national parks, forest reserves, and every area that has the potential to recruit and serve as opportunity for communities to get some revenue from trade and management resources.
The whole thing started with wildlife management given that wildlife cannot survive without the environment, "so we decided to come up with that concept to encourage local communities that are willing to integrate natural resource management into their land use," says Dr Andrew Kyei Agyare, Operations Manager of the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission.
The concept intended to get the public more involved in the governance of natural resources management in the country. The concept is being done in about 32 communities in seven regions, covering over 30 districts.
The approach to natural resource management in Ghana is largely governed by national laws, thus, the management is more of top-down approach. The very first policies of the division in terms wildlife management was very preservationist and therefore there was public exclusion from the management of the resource.
"If you look at the laws, if one intends to hunt animals there is the need to obtain permits, and because of that people were looking at the resource more like something that belongs to somebody. Wildlife was seen as agricultural pest and yet when you want to take wildlife you need permit ... So who cared, for that reason it was like the resource in terms of growth was going down and needed to savage the situation, because natural resources is our heritage," he explains.
The concept allows the minister responsible for lands and natural resources to issue certificate of devolution of management responsibilities and authority to constituent group of people who have organised themselves to manage their own resources. If the structures are working well, the people now have a better say in what happens in their own landscape to preserve and conserve natural resources. "That kind of collective sense of purpose in managing resources is enough incentive," Dr Agyare says.
As an institutional framework, it describes geographically delineated area, where two or more communities come together and agree based on certain shared regulations to ensure that particular delineated area is put to a sustainable use. The delineation of the area involves steps taken by the members of the community. This involves communities identification of specific boundaries- areas to be managed, identification of focal species or resources and coming out with a constitution that will be binding on how to take resources from the area, accessibility to it, and even how to open up the place for external users, and how to trade some of the assets in the managed area for revenue.
There is governance structures and several governance instruments, which makes CREMA very unique in nature. "It builds on existing traditional governance structures, that are already laid down in the community, works with the traditional set up by trying to first use the traditional structures like the chiefs, the council of elders, and also enhancing those structures by allowing the effective participation and inclusiveness of all other stakeholders in the community," Daryl Bosu of Arocha explains.
The basic governance structure is called Community Resource Management Committee, comprising of members of the traditional council-sometimes includes representative of the chief, as well as members of hunting association, bush meat traders in the community, the physically challenged and vulnerable group, and religious groups.
It creates a structure at the community level, which allows for every interest group in the community to participate and have their voice heard when it comes to how natural resources are used on the land, he mentions.
"In a situation where the community have pastoral herdsmen living in the community and because these herdsmen have an impact on water resources, grass, trees, they have no choice than to include representation of the herdsmen on the committee," Mr Bosu notes, whose organisation identifies protected areas in need of assistance due to environmental degradation.
"The structure of CREMA also benefits from additional structure, for instance, if there are several CREMAs within a district, then in that case there would be need to have a CREMA management board because they all fall within one traditional area but due to closeness of communities, the need to form segregated unit of CREMAs, but eventually they all need to have one coordinating unit, so sometimes, the need to have a CREMA management board," he explains.
The CREMA by virtue of the fact that it allows for the formation of governance structures encourages collective decision making and takes away the previous approach where only the chief makes a decision on behalf of all members of the community.
"Because there is a community decision making platform every member of the community has a representation, where their voices are heard and can contribute decisions that relates to assets use and tights when it comes to natural resources," Mr Bosu of Arocha says.
In effect, the CREMA takes away the practice where only the chief or somebody called opinion leader or the elite in the community makes decision on behalf of the entire people.
Another benefit of CREMA is it allows communities to reflect on the long term, what suitable options they need to put their natural resources into for the whole benefit of the community.
"Because if you allow one person to make decisions, they might decide to put a forest to selling it for the timber it provides, or sell the timber to someone to produce charcoal or give the place to a herdsman to turn their community into a pastoral ground. But with the decision and way it is to manage resources, they can then think more on long term on how best as a community utilise their resources so that it supports them in the long term," Mr Bosu states.
With the initiative developed by the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission, it also makes the effort or emphasise the protection for wildlife species.
"We know in Ghana, if you go to the off reserved areas, it is very hard now to see wildlife, but with CREMAs, there is a lot training for communities and capacity building on monitoring of threats, appreciation of species that are wholly protected like elephants, crocodiles," Mr Bosu says, whose NGO, Arocha, formed in 1999, also focuses on climate change.
"So it provides the community in the area of capacity building associated with the programme towards awareness of the benefits of wildlife resources, value of all the wildlife resources in their community, so in a way acting locally to contribute to the global goal of securing wildlife species," he adds.
In addition, the CREMA equally helps to attain the status of recognition for engaging in the process. "Recognition by adopting, agreeing to adopt sustainable pathway for managing their resources. Recognition in the fact that people then become interested in the output of outcome of their conservation activities," he asserts.
CREMAs help communities to develop sustainable financial mechanisms which serves the collective objective of the community by ensuring that there is investment in businesses that would ensure revenue for CREMA operations.
So there is always this interest from private sector companies, NGOs, who want to in a way contribute socially, by having corporate social responsibility projects in communities that are already showing commitment and offering them further support to achieve financial sustainability.
"Already companies want to identify with landscape management projects or community based project to that they can account or add into their balance sheets as their contribution to environmental sustainability issues in the country. It offers quite a broad range of benefits," Mr Bosu said.
"They have organise themselves and have put in place have rules and regulations, constitution, by laws. For so many years the fire prone areas, no fire has gone through those areas because of their own efforts. People are conserving their own environment and seeing the whole benefits of it, some could be emotional, direct benefits, and some kind of strength to their culture. Benefits is not just the tangible ones that can be seen in terms of money," Dr Agyare of the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission mentions.
Visit to Lake Bosumtwi CREMA Site
Lake Bosumtwi is situated within an ancient meteorite impact crater and occurs as the only natural lake in Ghana. The objectives of this project which started in 2013 by Arocha, together with other partners are to achieve sustainable conservation of the lake and its resources through a collaborative community approach by creating: awareness creation through conservation education, and capacity building through the training of community volunteers and engaging communities in waste management.
It is envisaged that the project will contribute to reducing pollution, sustainable biodiversity management, improved waste management practices and improved livelihood options through the establishment of small scale enterprises.
Observation on the site
The lake has gone significantly inshore, over hundred metres, a situation which requires drastic action, of course the community must equally take actions, but the government needs to put in place appropriate measures to safeguard it. The community members mentioned reduction in rainfall pattern for the reduction. Some of the community members were seen bathing directly in the lake with soap, while others look on and fetch the water for domestic purposes.
Mr Prosper Antwi-Boasiako, the Project Leader from Arocha tells me the water quality from a recent test done was in a bad state. Given the potential of the lake as a tourist attraction and even preserving the ecosystem, all hands on deck needs to be deployed sooner than later. The community members through the CREMA have planted nicely trees along the fringes together with coconut but appears not to be enough.
Jams Akwasi Addie, a CREMA executive member at Bosumtwi says before the CREMA began, the fingerlings were destroyed by people in the communities, but we have instituted a bylaw which prohibits such activity from happening to minimise the destruction of the fingerlings.
"Due to the fact there are seasons for the fingerlings and matured fish, people use mesh nets to trap the fingerlings. Education on people to stop that sort of activities goes on and now most people have stopped the practice of harvesting fingerlings. Fishing is the main economic activity and even when people are encouraged to engage in other activities, they don't welcome that, even though others do that," he mentions.
Mr Prosper Antwi-Boasiako, the Project Leader from Arocha says bylaws put in place supports communities to plant trees and coconuts by the fringes of the lake, so that people don't work within 50 metres from the lake.
"In spite of that people still do farm along the fringes, until trees or coconuts are planted all along the fringes, it may not stop. That is also a challenge because that is somebody's land and now that the bylaws have been put in place, you cannot arrest the person, because that land also belongs to that person. So time is needed for that person to harvest the farm and once that is done, trees can be planted."
Mr Antwi-Boasiako adds that the executive members need capacity building to have dedicated people who appreciates the concept of the CREMA, an aspect being looked at.
"The constitution allows for election of officials and once it their term of three years has not expire, you cannot sack officials that are not functioning properly, because their office is legally binding through the devolution of authority given by the minister of lands and natural resources. So you just have to work with them through encouragement.
"Since it is at infant stage, the community don't have the necessary funds, so if an NGO or organisation does not come it is difficult for them to make progress. As a result of that, the community have not been able to institute things that can generate money, the concept over the course of operations should be able to generate money sustainably.
"Road infrastructure connecting the communities is in terrible state, having meetings between the communities become difficult to be done. CREMA executives should be going to the various communities to consistently educate the people on bye-laws such as avoidance of chemicals such as soap to bath in the lake but there is no funding to do that," Mr Antwi-Boasiako adds.
The community members were trained grass cutter rearing, those that took that on board are making money, while others did not pay much attention to it.
"We have conventionally taught that the only way to raise revenue is to expand farms, clear more forest areas, and then grow more crops and bring on-board multicultural farm lands where you do large acreages of maize, cocoa, etc. These are good but eventually these things depend on thriving ecosystem that supports them. You can start doing this large acreages of maize, cocoa, etc. but if you do not sustain them the environmental services like the micro climate by the forest close by, to ensure that it stays and continues gives the environment that is conducive for cocoa, you will see a higher yield for your farm but eventually it goes down.
"So farmers have the opportunity through CREMAs to adopt sustainable farming practices, which might eventually exclude the use of fertilisers and pesticides. There is now a high market demand for sustainably produced commodities," Mr Bosu said.
In the Northern part of the country they are talking about organic Shea, and it is the only way to get a higher market price than the conventional shea or cocoa. These commodities are not exposed to inorganic fertilisers for a minimum of three years and they come with special premium prices on the world market.
"Definitely farmers as they are, CREMA gives them the opportunity to bring all the green development opportunities, they start looking at water conservation practices, soil fertility maintenance, excluding use of fertilisers and chemicals, which eventually brings forth benefits.
"And if it is well structured, and because they at CREMAs, people tend to pay attention to them to be sustainable, therefore their value chains are well elaborated and supported, either with inputs, machinery, or low cost equipment to make the processing better.
"A typical example is in some part of the north where they are doing CREMAs, communities are now trading organic Shea and this organic Shea fetches more income than the normal Shea you can pick from any farm ... Through the CREMAs, these communities by their CREMA areas ensured that they are not exposed to chemicals. So the shea nuts that falls from the tress to the ground, if it's picked, becomes a very special Shea nut, with special price and the market demands for organic shea," Mr Bosu states.
The very concept is an adaptation framework from East Africa, the nature convergences in Kenya, which is based on wildlife management.
CREMA serves as a home grown framework for off reserved management. The French speaking countries are trying to adopt the CREMAs, he states.
"We have partners from Burkina Faso, Mali, who are all learning from the CREMA initiative-benefits, and opportunities it avails for communities, so we are all have a lot to learn from each other.
"We adopted the nature convergences framework from east Africa and have actually adapted it. We are not doing exactly as they do in east Africa but have adapted it to suit our local land tenure issues, rights in relation to land. An exchange is already going between countries and there is a lot to learn in terms of the benefits for Africa and even Asia countries are really taking this up seriously."
Challenges of CREMA
One of the main Challenges for CREMAs lies more with having the appropriate legal framework to back CREMAs. Right now all the CREMAs that are in Ghana are surviving based on the fact that there is a policy documentation.
Indirectly there is some legal strength, legal support for CREMAs-which says that local government authority reserves the right, to enact bye-laws, to support processes they think will be useful to them. So CREMAs find themselves in district assemblies.
"Most of the time if a CREMA is developed, the constitution that is developed to go with the CREMA in terms of the governance structures needs to be gazette at the district assembly for it to have value otherwise if you tell someone you have delineated this area and protecting it, nobody will respect it because it is not backed by law.
"So in that sense at the local level it is there but because it is not captured in the national legal framework, even at the local government level, they drag their feet when the communities go and want a byelaw to cover their CREMAs."
There is a whole policy on the CREMA and has received cabinet approval, which is not equivalent to legislative backing. The implementation of the CREMA concept started based on policy, "but for me policy before legislation, that is the process," Dr Agyare of the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission indicates.
"We had a window in an existing legislation that is the Wildlife Preservation Act 43 of 1961 and that is where the minister draws his authority to give out the devolution certificate to manage wildlife. Now this thing has been captured explicitly in the Wildlife bill which has been with parliament for a long period. We were hoping the previous parliament would pass it, and it did not happen. It is not like there is no legal basis for it, except that it is weak, but there is a basis for doing it," Dr Agyare states.
Dr Kojo Appiah-Kubi Member of Parliament (MP) for Atwima Kwawoma constituency, in the Ashanti region and member of the Committee on Environment, Science and Technology in Ghana’s parliament says failure in the fight against environmental degradation is due to poor execution of laws, the inability of the agencies, the police and other security forces to ensure the strict implementation of the laws.
"It is not about the lack of laws-we have laws covering small scale mining, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is unable to ensure the implementation of the laws.
"The EPA is a national agency, it is not a decentralised body, and does not come under the district assemblies, so they don't have control over the EPA to protect the environment. The district assemblies can't instruct the EPA to undertake environmental impact assessment. It is only the central government that has oversight responsibility over the EPA but unfortunately the EPA says they are handicap in terms of resources to implement laws," Dr Appiah-Kubi said.
He also mentions lack of political will as bane to environmental protection, saying, "Because as a country we have not prioritise environmental protection."
"Secondly, we take solace in environmental pollution, by indulging in the pollution ourselves. We need to show environmental protection as a priority, by showing political will to safeguard the environment because things are getting bad. Our rivers are being destroyed, land are being degraded, and cash crops are also being destroyed for personal gains. We also have agricultural practices that does help the environment such as slash burning," the MP said.
It is a matter of politicians or the legislature appreciating the value of these things, and also more of issue of proponent of CREMAs having a conscious effort to get them to understand.
"Sometimes ensuing is always difficult, and expensive, so a lot people shy away from that, but that does not mean it can't be done. The processes were initiated last year to get this finally done, but the change in government has led to the delay of that process and need to kick start the process with the new members of legislature," Mr Bosu of Arocha also says.
We also have an issue of long term conservation trust fund as a country to support community initiatives like the CREMA, he said.
"Other countries have a dedicated fund that supports conservation initiatives. So if a community wants to start a CREMA they don't need to go and see an NGO-most of the CREMAs that have been started is either through projects supported by an international donor or NGO fund raising to support them. But if there is a national fund, every community that wants to do CREMAs could tap into the resources for all the early stages of engagement, and facilitation that is required to be able to do that," Mr Bosu adds.
Dr Appiah-Kubi states that the creation of funds is due to the lack of prioritisation on the part of the government, "but if the government prioritise environmental protection as something very important, why would the government not make funds available to protect it. There are many funds which are not effectively working, which are statutory."
Another problem associated with CREMA is the incapacity on the part of civil society groups in Ghana to support the process, and there are very few NGOs that have an appreciation of the process and that are working with it.
"Some of them start of by saying that they know what CREMA is and look for funding to do it. If you really get down to it, they don't even know what it really means to have CREMA, and they do all that they want, that's why there is the issue of people not working in harmony comes up, " Mr Bosu says.
"Some of the NGOs clearly don't know, they think it's a hit and ran, have a one year project, and most of them once do what they want to do, you don't hear from them again.
"CREMA is a process and you need to take time to facilitate, get the governance structure in place, and to get the instruments that are required and even to help them to adapt to the changes communities are going through. There is the need for conscious efforts by all civil society to understand CREMA.
"When the policy was passed, there was some training, but it has been many years now, there is therefore the need to have refresher course led by the wildlife division together with several stakeholders to have the same understanding of the concept, the technicalities, so that when they hit the ground to work, they know what to do when certain situations arise," he said.
CREMAs needs financing, thus pushing for the trust fund at the national level is critical and even at the local level, Mr Bosu recommends.
"There is the need to identify financial mechanism to ensure that we sustain community involvement in natural resource management. We can't say because they are a community, we allow them to do everything on voluntary basis, without being paid, it's a trade-off. We pay officers to guide national parks, if communities are guiding natural resources which will bring benefits to the state, we need to find some resources to serve as incentives to them to empower them to do more," he adds.
As a government organisation, it is very difficult to acquire all the resources to take the CREMA to a stage it should be, so we encourage NGOs and other organisations that have community development expertise to collaborate to improve on the governance in the management of natural resources, Dr Agyare of the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission says.
NGOs have too much competitive orientations so we encourage them to help but collaborate for the proper things to be done, he adds.
Credit: Under the aegis of the CSE Media Fellowships Programme