The role of forests in providing diverse products and benefits for sustaining rural livelihoods as well as for poverty alleviation is widely acknowledged. Although this role is clearly appreciated in Ghana’s 1994 Forest and Wildlife Policy, official mechanisms to ensure a sustainable flow of benefits from forests to rural people are cumbersome, inequitable and ineffective. Further, the 2002 Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy designed to respond to the Millennium Development goals, although recognizing forests’ potential in poverty alleviation, fails to reflect the actual contribution of forests to the rural economy. In other words, even though the social importance of forests is officially appreciated, knowledge on how and to what extent forests contribute to rural livelihoods is not well researched and neither are policies to enhance the role of forests in rural development and poverty reduction. Recently, doubts have, for example, been raised about the claim that local people depend significantly on forests. Thus, the argument that forests probably serve mainly as safety nets is gaining currency, suggesting we should promote alternative livelihood strategies rather than thinking forest resources should be used to alleviate rural poverty. Such policy arguments exploit that the linkages between forest resources and rural people’s livelihoods have not been empirically established and possibly seek to prevent a debate over the distribution of forest revenues from timber harvesting, which are mainly captured by urban elites. Accordingly, primary and empirical data that document forests’ current role in rural livelihoods is critically needed to inform policy making. Based on quarterly questionnaire surveys over one year of 600 rural households in the wet and transitional forest zones of Ghana, the paper estimates the economic importance of forests to rural households. Moreover, the paper assesses the official governance regime under which rural households derive forest benefits and suggests how changes in this regime may serve the dual objective of improving rural livelihoods and conserving Ghana’s over-exploited forest resource.
Obiri, B. Do forests contribute to rural livelihoods in Ghana? Presented at World forestry congress: Poverty Environment Network side event, Buenos Aires, Argentina. (2009)