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Customary power, farmer strategies and the dynamics of access to protected forestlands for farming: Implications for Ghana's forest bioeconomy
Forest Policy and Economics  (IF3.673),  Pub Date : 2021-10-11, DOI: 10.1016/j.forpol.2021.102597
Eric Mensah Kumeh, Boateng Kyereh, Athena Birkenberg, Regina Birner

In the last decade, multiple scientists and policymakers have been promoting bioeconomy for decarbonisation and as a way to tackle the ongoing socio-ecological crises. An effective transition to the bioeconomy in developing countries, which are predominantly agrarian,depends partly on its amenability to existing land access regimes and how actors in such countries are able to manage competing claims and needs associated with land use for biomass production. However, this is sparingly examined in the bioeconomy-politics literature. Using a case study from Ghana, a Global South context aspiring towards a forest-based bioeconomy, we analyze how overlapping legal and normative institutions mediate forest-dependent communities' access to lands in forest reserves for their food and other livelihood needs. The study found that state and traditional institutions are racing to sanction forest communities' access to forest reserve lands in order to consolidate their authority over the area. In the emerging bioeconomy, the state employs plantation forestry as a tool to consolidate its control. Concurrently, traditional authorities contend this by facilitating farmers' access to the same area for cocoa production to establish claims to the land. Amid this contest, forest communities have constructed a robust discourse centred on their ‘right to food’, enabling them to apply their rich local knowledge to cultivate food and cash crops in forest reserves without deference to state institutions and traditional authorities. State forestry officials react by cutting down these ‘illegal farms’, causing periodic food insecurity in the study localities. Some farmers respond by adapting their access mechanisms, cultivating deeper into the reserve to evade forestry officials. The dynamism of this conflict makes sustainable resource use challenging in the study localities. But it also indicates that without proper safeguards and a coherent rural development policy, the bioeconomy will become an approach for reproducing oppressive land accumulation, impeding forest communities ability to address their food and livelihood needs. Thus, while the findings bring to date the growing struggle over land in Sub-Saharan Africa, it cautions that governments need to recognize that the bioeconomy, despite its promise of sustainability, is no quick fix for entrenched structural problems in rural Africa.