This month, public sector, private sector and civil society organization partners jointly launched the Accessible Soils And Sustainable Environments (ASASE) project in Ghana. Over the coming four years, this groundbreaking initiative will be working towards an environmentally sustainable future for the cocoa sector, tackling deforestation and working to rehabilitate ageing cocoa farms and restore natural forests.
ASASE, which also means “land” in the local Ghanaian language Twi, is a 2.3 million Euro project co-funded by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) as part of the Sustainable Development Goals Partnership (SDGP). Driven by a belief that a thriving, climate-smart cocoa sector is possible, this 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. Farmers will receive sensitizations and trainings on agroforestry practices, as well as land and tree tenure documentation to improve the long-term security of their farms. Further, 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.
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 organization 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. Meridia 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 smallholder 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.
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.