Ex-situ conservation of medicinal plants and spices at Ghana’s Aburi Botanical Gardens generates interest for awareness creation and value chain analysis of non-timber forest products to improve their integration into climate risk mitigation programs.
Taking advantage of the proximity to Aburi, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) West Africa team visited the Aburi botanical gardens after a weeklong planning meeting. The Aburi botanical garden is a relaxed, giant green space on the hills of Aburi, 30 km from the city of Accra. The team climbed the beautiful Aburi Mountains on a sunny Friday with the golden rays of the tropical sun bursting out from the east and beautiful birds singing songs of melody from trees. Indeed, one could only testify to the beauty of nature and the necessity to conserve biodiversity.
But of ecological importance, the Aburi botanical gardens, one of Ghana’s most visited tourist sites has become a refugium and safe haven for many non-timber floral species. The garden which was opened over a century ago has several hundred species of plants and animals. Apart from tourism, the site of the garden conserves a large primary forest rich in biodiversity. The Aburi botanical gardens which was previously a sanatorium for the government of the Gold Coast (now Ghana) and a research center for cocoa has an ex-situ conservation program that has seen several species of native and foreign trees/shrubs successfully planted and adapted. Interestingly, foreign tree spices such as the curry tree (Murraya koenigii), cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) and nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) were seen flourishing at the garden’s herbarium growing together with many medicinal plants and spices. The medicinal plants and spices had been planted at a designated area within the garden to serve as a model for the local community to adopt as they had aggressively encroached preserved forest areas to source for non-timber forest products (NTFPs) such as medicine, spices, and resins. However, local planting of NTFPs still remains an uncommon practice to the detriment of forest resources.
In most of Ghana, it is common for farmers to diversify income streams as a pathway to reduce vulnerability to the failure of their farm produce. In addition to vulnerability reduction, market opportunities also influence many households to indulge in other activities that sustainably generate income. Therefore, with climate and markets influencing diversification of farming systems and changes in farm practices, awareness creation and education on the economic potentials of NTFPs may influence their integration into local farming systems. To date, value chain analysis and the economic assessment of many important NTFPs remain a major gap in local forest economics research although future projections anticipate a rise in their demand by both local and foreign gin manufacturing companies, herbal pharmaceutical industries, supermarkets etc.
As climate change and variability continue to hamper crop and livestock production, local climate risk mitigation programs may promote the integration of NTFPs into traditional farming systems.
This will (1) offer new income streams for farmers; (2) provide safety-nets in times of shortfalls in incomes derived from crops, livestock or fisheries; and (3) serve as a potential pathway out of rural poverty and food insecurity. With 70% of Ghanaians thought to be engaged in agriculture, planting NTFPs on farmlands for subsistence and economic gains will perfectly align with Ghana’s Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy that identifies the agricultural sector as the mainstream opportunity to achieve sustainable, equitable growth, accelerated poverty reduction, and the protection of the vulnerable and excluded within a decentralized democratic environment.