Last week I visited the second of our study sites in the ECOLIMITS project, funded by the ESPA (Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation) programme of NERC and DfID. The project is looking at high different intensities of small-holder land use (cocoa farms in Ghana and coffee farms in Ethiopia) affect biodiversity, ecosystem services and poverty alleviation. Are there benefits to farming near forests or high tree cover, e.g. through increased dew fall in the dry season, or pollination or pest control? Are there ecosystem limits, where farming too intensively causes ecosystem feedbacks that enhance poverty rather than diminish it?
Cocoa originated in Amazonia, but Ghana now produces almost all of the chocolate eaten in Britain, and is the world's second largest producer after neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire. It contributes substantially to the income of rural Ghana, and cocoa production is enmeshed in a complex quilt of traditional land ownership, tenant farmers, migrants and national cocoa policies. A well-managed, low shade cocoa farm can be highly productive, but poor in biodiversity. A shadier, less intensively managed cocoa farm may be less productive in the short term, but more sustainable in the longer term and richer in biodiversity.
Our work is focussed in the communities, cocoa farms and forests in and around Kakum National Park. We spent a very enjoyable few days there, selecting study sites and introducing our project to local communities. Everywhere we went the communities were welcoming, gracious and co-operative. Rural Ghana is such a welcoming landscape to wander around in.
Yadvinder Malhi is an ecosytem ecologist and Professor of Ecosystem Science at Oxford University