Interview with Kennedy Ntoso: COP23: Deforestation and Gender Responsive Solutions for Agriculture and Food Security

Interview with Kennedy Ntoso, Head of Olam Cocoa Sustainability, Ghana

This week, as policymakers, development agencies and researchers descend on Bonn for COP23 to discuss climate change solutions, a special focus will be given to gender, as seen by the  ‘Gender-responsive solutions in the context of climate change for agriculture and food security’ session. To gain insights into what actions the private sector can take to support gender mainstreaming in agriculture, we spoke to Kennedy Ntoso, Head of Olam Cocoa Sustainability (Ghana) about his involvement with the Gender Sub Working Group (GSWG) of Ghana’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) programme.

 

REDD+ is a framework seeking to provide financial incentives for developing countries to conserve and sustainably manage their forests. The REDD+ GSWG was created to spearhead the gender mainstreaming process and ensure the consideration of gender issues and women-specific risks are integrated into forestry policies and decision-making.

 

Olam Cocoa was chosen as the only private sector member based on its commitment to women’s empowerment across its Olam Livelihoods Charter (OLC) initiatives, its leadership in addressing forest degradation through industry initiatives, such as the Cocoa Action, and its introduction of climate smart agricultural practices, such as the first verified Climate-Smart Cocoa in 2011.

1. Why is it important to engage women specifically for the protection of forests? 

Women interact with the forests every day, gathering herbs, fire-wood and water, and so are closest to the resources the forest provides. They are also responsible for many of the daily farming processes and practices, if there are any practices found in these communities which are dangerous to the environment, it is important that women understand why and are involved in the decision to end them.

2. What are the main challenges in reaching women?  

We work in traditional settings where women don’t usually take frontline roles or feel they are able to speak or participate in decision-making processes. In certain communities, women don’t even come out of the house to hear what we have to say. Men often manage families’ finances, even if the women are carrying out the money-making activities. So we must empower women, socially and financially, to have the confidence to get involved in the decision making process. We work hard to break down barriers and bring women into the conversation. Once women are engaged, we are faced with the challenge of both men and women understanding the importance of protecting the forest and the resources they rely on.

3. How have you overcome these challenges?

Firstly, we believe education is key. Education gives women the confidence to speak up during decision-making processes regarding the forests they interact with every day. Good education also enables them to better understand climate change, and the importance of protecting the natural resources around them. Olam, in partnership with traditional authorities, has set up educational funds to support girls in particular. By building boreholes in communities, we are making water easily accessible, so children can spend the day in school rather than collecting water. We are also increasing school attendance by reducing the spread of disease through the construction of toilets in schools to improve hygiene, and offering free health screening for families – this year we have screened more than 50,000 families.

 

Secondly, we believe the confidence gained through financial empowerment can help women have a voice. With additional livelihood training, such as the benefits of crop diversification, and start-up support including interest-free loans, many women cocoa farmers have been able to establish alternative sources of income, for instance rodent (grasscutter) farming, batik and soap making, etc. Supporting women in these ways has given them a more prominent place in forest-related decision-making processes

4. Are your efforts making progress? Please provide specific examples.

We are seeing particular progress in gender mainstreaming in the Medina community in the Asawinso region, where cocoa farming is the main livelihood activity. Through the Olam Livelihood Charter, we have provided training programmes for women farmers that focus on health and safety, ensuring the safe handling, spraying and storage of approved agrochemicals on the farms, responsible labour practices and financial empowerment, teaching the benefits of diversification of crops, batiking, and rodent (grasscutter) farming.

 

Most importantly, the women really understand how the REDD+ best practices taught in training sessions impact the environment, and the importance of reducing carbon emission from deforestation and forest degradation. With this understanding they have embraced the REDD+ practice of ‘tree ownership’ and cocoa agro-forestry, planting new cocoa and shade trees, for shade (to avoid excess moisture loss in dry seasons), and for leaf fall (to reduce soil degradation through added organic matter on the forest floor). In fact, a woman farmer in western Ghana who has embraced cocoa rehabilitation was named ‘best farmer of the year’ by the Sefwi Wiawso Municipal assembly in 2016.

5. What have you learnt from your involvement in the REDD+ Gender Sub Working Group?

That meaningful partnership is the only way we will be able to tackle the challenges of forest degradation and deforestation. Vitally, to control the use of these resources, we need the communities that have the most contact with the forests to understand the issues, the implications of continued degradation and deforestation and play a primary role in the decision to put a stop to harmful practices.


The GSWG has been very active in supporting the Community Resource Management Areas (CREMA), set up by the Forest Commission and the Wildlife Authority, to involve communities in the decision-making process of the forest and its resources. Without involvement and buy-in, best practices won’t be adopted and co-optimal benefits won’t be achieved. In short, we have learned that partnership is the best way to achieve REDD+ results.

6. Can REDD+ be easily applied to your programmes in other countries

Yes, absolutely. Across the developing world lack of community involvement in forest management is a wide spread issue. However, the successes that Ghana is seeing can be replicated by using the CREMA model, based on inclusive partnerships, involving communities and particularly women, in forest management decisions. It is the only way forward for forest conservation in other origin countries which face the same deforestation and forest degradation challenges.

 

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