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Thompson Fighting fires with forest-friendly farming

Thompson Abrefa leads the Community Fire Squad in Akrokom, and is helping restore the Tain II reserve.

Thompson’s four-acre maize and cashew farm sits just north of the Tain II Forest Reserve in the west of Ghana’s Brong Ahafo region. He’s worked there since finishing elementary school.

A well-known figure in the neighbourhood, over the years Thompson has helped coordinate several local road and school building projects as the community chairman. More recently, he’s been focused on getting the Akroforo community ready for fire season.

Reforesting Tain II

Little original forest remains in the reserve the surrounds the Tain River. As with many of Ghana’s reserves, Tain II has suffered from illegal logging, agricultural expansion and wildfires; by 2012 it was a mosaic of degraded savannah, farmland and unmanaged teak plantation.

In 2017, Form Ghana launched effort to restore and reforest the 117,000-hectare landscape with the support of Partnerships for Forests. The plantation management company began developing a sustainable agroforestry model as part of a wider partnership agreed in 2013 with the Forestry Commission and Traditional Authorities that could improve the productivity and biodiversity of the reserve as well as the livelihoods of nearby communities.

Photo: © DOB Ecology

Climate-smart growing

Sitting in the fringes of Form Ghana’s plantation, Thompson’s farm has benefitted from joining the maize programme. After receiving high-yielding, certified maize seeds he was able to plant them between Form Ghana’s teak trees.

While the trees grow, this agroforestry system gives Thompson and other farmers access to more land, and extra income from helping weed the teak.

Photo: © Form International

“Because of the intensive maize programme,” says Thompson, “I will have a much higher yield than previous years.”

As well taking advantage of the job training and technical advice, he said the extra income had been a real boost for his family, and meant that he and his wife could celebrate one of their three sons graduating from his business course earlier this year.

Photo: © DOB Ecology

Preventing the spread of wildfire

Thompson has taken on another key role within the project as the head of the Akrokrom cluster’s Community Fire Squad.

Unmanaged, fires used for land clearance in the dry harmattan season between November and March risk consuming large swathes of forest and threaten farmland. The Community Fire Management component of the project has trained Thompson and other local fire officers to reduce the risk of wildfire and spreads awareness through community campaigns.

Already, Thompson has led several training sessions. Introducing the Fire Danger Index, he shows other farmers how to safely use fire for land clearing, making sure they request permits before fire season if they intend to do so. He and the other fire officers closely supervise any clearing.

Thompson shows a member of his family the training pack used by the Community Fire Squads explaining the new Fire Danger Index system; the project has helped reduce uncontrolled fire by as much as 50% in the Tain II area.

Biodiversity belts that stop blazes

Small pockets of old growth forest still exist along the banks of the Tain reserve’s streams and rivers. In restoring and connecting 1000 hectares of them, the project team hopes to create refuges for biodiversity, like Ghana’s threatened Takorowani tree. They’ll also form green belts that run through the timber plantations, acting as buffers to help prevent the spread of fires.

Indigenous trees in the buffer zone create refuges for biodiversity and prevent the spread of fire. Photo: © DOB Ecology

Thompson is quickly becoming an expert in fire management, and he says the project has helped him gain and in-depth understanding of reducing fire risk and the importance of the belts in protecting the landscape: "we know how wide the fire belt must be, depending on the vegetation around it and on the farm that must be protected, and what other prevention measures the community and farmers must make.”

A greener future

To date, the restoration interventions cover almost 2000 hectares, with more scheduled. Form Ghana ultimately hopes to expand the pilot to cover the whole landscape and the programme is actively working to include more farmers, developing value chains for target crops and expanding the community fire programme.

Thompson welcomes the prospect of a scale up. “I want the programme to protect the entire landscape and forest reserve” he explained.

“Because of the training and opportunities, there is now work for a lot of my community members and this gives people a purpose in life.

I look forward to expanding my farm; my goal is for my children to succeed in their career while I progress in my business.”