By Eric Rega Christophe Bayala, PhD candidate, University of Amsterdam
After months of travel restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, I was finally able to travel again, spending almost a full year in the field. It was a pleasure to be able to visit my study site in northern Ghana and start collecting data for my PhD. Following all the travel requirements, formalities and preparations, I found myself in the iconic Western Wildlife Corridor, full of enthusiasm and ready to discover this landscape and its actors.
But to do so, I needed the support of a research assistant who knew the area well. Very quickly, through a former colleague from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), I met Kenneth Afagachie with whom I would be linked for the rest of my adventure as a young researcher.
My research activities, conducted as part of the COLANDS initiative (Collaborating to Operationalize Landscape Approaches for Nature, Development and Sustainability), were organized in three steps.
Step 1: Scoping study and contact with stakeholders
Fieldwork in the Western Wildlife Corridor landscape, which is organized in Community Resource Management Areas (CREMAs), started in early 2021 with a scoping study during which institutional actors, CREMA leaders and local communities were met or contacted so that I could present the research objectives and prepare for the data collection. Then, field observation allowed me to discover the beauty of the Corridor: a vast expanse of trees stretching as far as the eye can see with multiple land-use activities therein. This combination of greenery, wildlife and human warmth was quite unique, in my experience.
This first step allowed us to identify the key stakeholders to be considered for the rest of the study, and to further refine data collection methods, including the interview guides for key respondent interviews and focus group discussions. Kenneth and I organised ourselves to start collecting the data to answer my research questions, which focus on community engagement in the governance of the Western Wildlife Corridor landscape, as well as on the prospects for implementing an integrated landscape approach (ILA) in this landscape.
Step 2: Individual interviews and focus group discussions
Data was collected through individual interviews and focus groups with local communities and both public and private actors. These activities involved three CREMAs which represent the research sites: Builsa Yenning, Moagduri Wuntaluri Kuwosaasi and Sanyiga Kasena Gavara Kara.
Interviews were held with representatives of government agencies and other organizations involved in CREMA governance or otherwise deemed important in the context of the study. Thus, actors such as district assemblies, CREMA executive committees (CECs), traditional chiefs, the Ghana Forestry Commission, ORGIIS (Organisation for Indigenous Initiatives and sustainability), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) were interviewed. In each of the CREMAs visited, focus groups were organized with farmers, herders, forest product operators, women, elders and youth. The aim of these consultations was to collect data related to landscape governance problems and challenges, types of stakeholders in the landscape, perceptions of different stakeholders concerning landscape governance, multistakeholder platforms, and inclusivity of relationships between actors and decision-making bodies.
Step 3: Participatory mapping and scenario building workshops
The third and final stage of data collection consisted of organizing three workshops involving representatives of local communities, the public, NGOs and the private sector. The objective was to discuss with the different stakeholder groups their desired landscape changes in terms of conservation and livelihoods. This led to participatory mapping and scenario-building exercises by each stakeholder group initially (during the first and second workshops), and then in plenary (during the third workshop).
The first workshop was held with local community representatives only. The aim was to know the perspectives of the communities that inhabit the CREMAs, especially in terms of desired landscapes in the future. The second workshop involved institutional actors only, to capture their vision of the landscape in the WWC. And the final workshop brought together both the local communities and institutional actors. In this last case, the goal was to assess the way in which all the actors managed to work together, make trade-offs and agree on a common vision for their landscape.
The preliminary results obtained from our investigations revealed several constraints to the proper functioning of the CREMAs system, namely: illegal and abusive logging, unsustainable agricultural practices, overgrazing, conflicts over the use of natural resources, the weak capacity of local governance structures and power asymmetries.
However, the presence of NGOs, private and state structures committed to better landscape conservation constitute an opportunity for capacity building in CREMA governance and could facilitate the conduct of a multi-stakeholder process and the implementation of a landscape approach in the WWC. Also, stakeholders, including local communities, have shown a willingness to work towards more inclusive landscape governance and sustainable livelihoods.
After this enriching experience in northern Ghana, I went back to my home Burkina Faso where I processed the collected data and started the writing of my PhD thesis. The adventure continues now in Amsterdam, where I am based for six months for the continuation of the thesis writing – far from the “Kugara” (Good morning in the local language of the WWC) and “welcome mister Frenchman” (French being my native language), but within a very welcoming scientific community full of resources to share (the University of Amsterdam).
This article is part of a series of fieldwork diaries from the COLANDS project. Read more:
- Our lands are COLANDS
- Fieldwork diary: Kalomo District, Zambia
- Aligning conservation and livelihoods in Indonesia’s Labian-Leboyan
Eric R. C. Bayala is a PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam where he is affiliated with the Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR). He is also affiliated with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) through the COLANDS initiative. His research topic is community engagement in landscape governance and prospects for operationalizing an integrated landscape approach in northern Ghana. He is particularly interested in the decision-making process in CREMAs (Community Resource Management Areas), perceptions of local stakeholders, and multi-stakeholder platforms. Eric holds a Master’s degree in Geography (option Rural Geography) from the University of Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) and a Master’s degree in Development (option Protected Area Management) from Senghor University of Alexandria (Egypt).