The Bamboo Alternative: a Neglected Opportunity? Exploring the potential of bamboo biomass energy for Forest Landscape Restoration in the Western Region, Ghana – a Livelihoods perspective
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Forests provide both public and private goods and services. Widespread deforestation and forest degradation have a damaging effect on these forest functions. Prevalent efforts have mainly focussed on the inhibition of deforestation. Forest Landscape Restoration comprises of a range of participatory strategies that aim to reverse deforestation and recover the functions of a forest landscape in order to fulfil the short and long term needs of both people and the environment. Bamboo as a resource has many features that are equivalent to those of trees. In theory, this fact, together with its regenerative character, makes it a promising resource for use in Forest Landscape Restoration strategies. In practice however, bamboo generally is an overlooked resource which has not been used for FLR purposes on a large scale. No research had been done as to which factors promote or hamper that its potential is put into practice. This study aimed to fill that knowledge gap. The research has been founded on theories on common-pool resources, collective action and institutions, generating the knowledge that the relation between the people and their environment is not influenced by the de jure property rights to land and resources solely, but is also based on the more informal institutions that influence people’s use of natural resources. A case study in the Western Region of Ghana formed the empirical basis for this research. A combination of several qualitative and quantitative methods were used in the Ellembelle and Mpohor Wassa East districts. In rural Ghana, the provision of firewood and charcoal is one of the most important forest functions for forest-dependent people in their daily life. This study found that where the collection of firewood leads to forest degradation, the logging of trees for charcoal production leads to deforestation. The prevalent decline in firewood is caused by a decline in forest area, mainly for agriculture. For other forest products, the decline is caused by an increase in use. Because of the quality and characteristics of the product, bamboo firewood cannot fully replace but only supplement normal firewood. Based on interviews and focus group discussions with a pilot group who tried bamboo charcoal it was found that high quality bamboo charcoal can replace normal charcoal, although the market price, which is yet unknown, will have a large impact too. People are interested to learn more about bamboo biomass energy, but are generally not interested in developing bamboo plantations on land they depend on for food crops. The framing of bamboo in current international policy instruments hinders the incorporation of bamboo in environmental development projects. In Ghana, in practice the use of bamboo is not hindered by formal institutions as bamboo is considered an open access resource even on private or common property land. For people to invest in the resource, institutional arrangements must be put in place to facilitate the conditions for self-organizing groups to guarantee a continued flow of bamboo resources. The key boundary condition entails the ability to exclude outsiders from using the resource. Furthermore, people’s bias towards bamboo as biomass energy and bamboo for cultivation must be taken away through education, as the pilot group found that “seeing is believing”.