Community Forest Monitoring in Ghana

Field crew selected for training in carbon monitoring by Ntabene community near Pamu Berekum Forest Reserve in Ghana. Trained by SRS Joe O’Brien (kneeling) and FORIG Francis Dwomoh second from left. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

We celebrate the FAO International Day of Forests with a story from Ghana.

U.S. Forest Service scientists are playing a role in restoring and conserving African tropical forest land in Africa by training local communities to monitor their own forests.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), deforestation in Africa occurs at roughly twice the rate of the rest of the world, resulting in massive losses in the benefits forests provide by cleaning water and air, providing sustainable livelihoods, and sheltering a rich and rare diversity of plants, animals and aquatic organisms. This rapid rate of deforestation also increases emissions of carbon to the atmosphere, ramping up rates of global climate change.

In 2008, the United Nations launched the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) program, which offers incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands. REDD+ goes beyond preventing deforestation and forest degradation to include conservation, sustainable forest management, and the improvement of forest health.   

After establishing plots, community monitors marked trees to take future measurements from. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

Like other African countries, Ghana lost millions of acres of forest over the last century to deforestation and degradation. In response, the government of Ghana began restoring the countrys degraded forest reserves, planting almost 50,000 acres in mostly native trees every year. In 2008, John Stanturf, Senior Scientist with the Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) Center for Disturbance Science,  began working with Dr. Dominic Blay, principal researcher for the Forest Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG) on the concept of involving local community members in monitoring carbon on these reserves.  

In 2009, with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Stanturf formed a team of SRS researchers—including social scientists Cassandra Johnson Gaither and John Schelhas and forest ecologist Joe O’Brien—for work on a pilot study in Ghana on community forest monitoring in the network of forest restoration projects established by FORIG. Communities on the fringe of the forest reserves received short and long-term benefits (such as pay to plant trees and part of the revenue when trees are harvested) to help restore and conserve the reserves.

“The premise behind our pilot study is that local communities need ongoing incentives to protect and conserve forests,” says Stanturf. “Our work was to lay the groundwork to help secure carbon payments from REDD+ to add to what governments are able to provide to keep the restored forests intact instead of harvesting them for the timber revenues.”

The pilot study focused on finding out how forest restoration fits into community itself and assessing the technical and institutional capacity for forest carbon monitoring. A team of two SRS researchers and three FORIG scientists worked in three villages bordering two forest reserves, in each community convening a group of diverse community members to go through a series of activities designed to clarify how people and the community derive their livelihoods, use the land, and value forests. They also held individual and group interviews to look at specific questions about forest use, agroforestry, forest values, climate change, and carbon monitoring. All the work was done in local languages, with translators onsite. Following these community assessments, other scientists from SRS and FORIG trained members nominated by the communities to establish monitoring plots and measure vegetation. The data collected are maintained, interpreted and converted into carbon estimates by FORIG, along with SRS scientists.

Results and discussion of specific  findings from the pilot study are covered in an article written by members of the SRS team and FORIG, with Schelhas serving as lead author. “The lessons we learned in Ghana are widely applicable in both developing and developed countries,” says Schelhas. “Involving local people directly in data collection and interpretation is gaining recognition as a way to improve conservation success by linking monitoring to the decisions of local people and building cooperation between local people and the authorities.”

FORIG is now considering scaling up the pilot study to other communities in Ghana, and the success of the pilot study has led to other work by Forest Service scientists for USAID in Zambia, Malawi, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and the Ivory Coast.

Read more about the community monitoring project in Ghana.

For more information, email John Stanturf at

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