Early this year, elders of the Murugu and Mognori communities in the West Gonja District wrote a letter to the District Assembly requesting it to support them in their efforts to manage wildlife and other natural resources within the area.
The letter specifically asked the Assembly to assist it to stop illegal logging of Rosewood, as the practice was undermining their efforts at managing their natural resources.
Illegal logging of Rosewood also known as Ebony has now become the order of the day in parts of northern Ghana.
Some community members say that the problem has worsened following a letter to the West Gonja District Assembly from the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources Centending that due to the construction of the Bui Dam, trees in some Districts in the Northern region including West Gonja can be felled under the Salvage permit.
Salvage permits are usually issued by the Forest Services Division for economic trees to be felled or logged in areas where major development construction activities are taking place.
According to James Bani of the Murugu community, “the protest letter eventually served a good purpose, as illegal logging has drastically reduced in the area and the concentration is now at the North Gonja area.”
This community initiative is what social development workers will describe as community empowerment in action. And this empowerment has been made possible thanks to the now firmly established Murugu Mognori Community Resource Management Area (CREMA).
The CREMA can be said to be a system that allows local community members to participate actively in the management of natural resources particularly wildlife in areas outside reserves. It is a kind of corridor management approach, which ensures the application of measures for the management of wildlife and other natural resources off-reserve. This means that local communities now have responsibility to manage these resources in ways that are beneficial to them. Thus, CREMA members recognised that wildlife resources are their natural, traditional and cultural heritage, which if properly managed could generate for them wealth and livelihood enhancement.
This recognition is what has emboldened the Murugu Mognori communities to voice their concerns over abuse of their heritage. This is a complete departure from the previous management style, where measures were implemented by force and which resulted in community alienation as well as negative perception about wildlife reserves and management.
Moreover, because the CRE-MA has mobilised and organised community members, they are now attracting assistance from non-governmental organisations to address poverty issues, climate change threats and farming problems.
For instance ARUSHA Ghana and North Code have been assisting some CREMA communities to undertake alternative livelihood activities including bee keeping, which is supplementing their income from farming.
The Mognori Community has been supported to build its eco-tourism potentials. According to Adam Karaah of Mognori, the community is now dubbed “Eco-village,” where tourists to the Mole National Park, “go for canoe safari in the park, home stay and cultural dancing entertainment.”
Obviously, the CREMA approach has provided communities with opportunities for the development of secondary and tertiary industries such as tourism and tourism support services.
The CREMA has helped improve environmental security and land use practices by farmers and James Bani who is Secretary to the Murugu Mognori CREMA, again testifies that “we hardly use fertilizer on our farms, we just cultivate our lands, plant our seeds and they grow and do well.”
Another benefit is increased income for farmers leading to greater food security and poverty alleviation.
For instance, Jacob Kontalizeim could not further his education after JSS due to financial difficulties but now married with five children, with the first in JHS now, he is hopeful that “the extra income I’m making from bee keeping will enable me to fund my children to higher levels of education.”
Other benefits include a greater understanding by farmers of the importance of natural resources in farm management, strengthening of local decision making structures and the ability of communities to make collective decisions, community empowerment to control access to resources by external user groups and individuals and greatly improved the linkages between communities, the Wildlife Division, District Assemblies and Traditional Authorities.
Genesis of the CREMAs
The genesis of CREMAs can be traced to the 1980’s and 1990’s of growing environmental degradation particularly in developing countries, when donor agencies and governments of developing nations realised that rural communities could play key roles in securing natural resources; and that any long-term strategy requires their involvement. This led to the development of a range of Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) or Community Wildlife Management (CWM) programmes across Africa.
In many cases such programmes have had dramatic changes to the way communities’ value, access and manage natural resources that they live with. For many of such communities they have found new wealth in old resources. However, with the newfound wealth has come responsibility, a responsibility to carefully manage natural resources.
This responsibility also has to do with how best CREMAs can handle existing challenges including conflicting interests, which is clearly what is happening in Gonjaland of late, regarding illegal logging. Other challenges include the on-going conversion of wildlife habitat to agricultural lands, which is threatening the country’s wildlife and environmental security.
This, according to wildlife experts, is due to the attitude that un-cleared land is unused land that has no value and cannot be secured by the individual until it is cleared.
Furthermore, most of the legislation governing wildlife does not provide enough incentives for farmers to care for and protect wildlife on their property. The result is that wildlife for most farmers is considered a pest that in many cases is directly competing with their agricultural activities.
In addition to this, the Wildlife Division that is responsible for wildlife resources is restricted by inadequate human and financial resources to adequately enforce current legislation. Another confronting challenge is the country’s quest to accelerate rural development, stimulate economic growth and reduce rural poverty. To this end, environmental security is often overlooked as being the key to ensuring such objectives in the long term.
Other challenges relate mostly to difficulties in implementation and facilitation to correctly identify local decision-making structures that could result in a powerless CREMA, and when communities are deeply divided over other issues, members may not be able to develop sufficient consensus to form a CREMA. Besides, the CREMA approach is a “process” and especially in the early stages requires time, technical support and funding for such support.
For this reason, communities around the Mole National Park as well as others that are well endowed with other natural resources have to be encouraged and assisted to form CREMAs. They include the Jinlinkon or Kunlog CREMA in the Sawla-Tuna-Kalba District initiated by the Wildlife Division at the request of the community. The purpose was to create and expand livelihood activities for the local people in order to balance conservation and development.
Another one is the Murugu Mognori CREMA initiated by the Wildlife Division as part of the implementation of the Wildlife Division support programme and in collaboration with the local people themselves who offered overwhelming support. A third one is the Zukpiri CREMA (consisting of 17 communities) in the Nadowli Kaleo District initiated by the Zintang Healers Association, a local traditional healers group primarily to conserve and improve their traditional medicine sources.
The BUSAC Fund Support
While these three CREMAs are progressing in terms of alternative income generating activities and improved knowledge about natural resources management, the lack of District Assemble bye laws to provide them with the required legal backing is hampering their effective functioning. Consequently, the Business Advocacy Challenged (BUSAC) Fund is funding the three CREMAs through the Murugu/Mognori CREMA Society to facilitate the process of finalising and gazetting the bye laws, which are in various stages of development. As part of activities to be undertaken under the BUSAC Fund, CREMA communities are currently being sensitised on the CREMA processes and the need for District Assemblies to hasten the gazetting process of the CREMA bye-laws. This activity is being implemented with the assistance of the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission.
Two sensitisation workshops have been organised at the Mole National Park in Damongo for the Murugu Mognori and Jinlinkon CREMAs, and in Wa for the Zukpiri CREMA. The BUSAC service provider, Ernest Aayel Beyuo, briefed participants who included officials of the District Assemblies on the draft bye laws. The consensus at both workshops was for a review of some aspects of the provisions in the bye laws and also for additional provisions that reflect current situations on the ground to be incorporated.
At the Mole National Park workshop, which was held on Tuesday July 8th, 2014, the Assembly member for the area, Eric Bani noted that the CREMAs of Jinlinkon and Murugu Mognori have grown and developed over the years and now what is required is for the West Gonja and Sawla-Tuna-Kalba District Assemblies to support and effect the gazetting of the bye laws. The Assistant Director of the West Gonjah District Assembly, Elijah Kombian Fant, on behalf of the District Chief Executive assured the people that “the CREMA was not a ploy by government to annex their lands, but to collaborate with them for mutual benefit for all.” He promised that “the Assemblies will work with the CREMAs to finalise and gazette the bye-laws to enable you enforce the rules and regulations effectively.”
At the Wa workshop, the Nadowli Kaleo District Chief Executive, John Bosco Bomansaan said communities have received various assistance because under the CREMA, they are well organised. He mentioned the Ghana Social Opportunity Project (GSOP) that has assisted them to address the threats of desertification by providing communities with a total of 15 thousand mahogany seedlings to plant and nurture. Mr. Bomansaan said other benefits directly from the Assembly include the employment of over 400 community members in road construction in the area, construction of small irrigations for vegetable farming and engagement of 145 voluntary fire fighters who are given monthly allowance. He invited NGOs into the area to support the people with social interventions that will further empower them economically, as they strive to manage the natural resources within the CREMA.
By Ama Kudom-Agyemang
The author is a writer on environment, climate change and science issues