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Understanding the women mangrove nexus in coastal Ghana

The objective of this study was to assist understanding the nexus between women and mangrove.

The dynamics between the health of Ghana’s mangroves and women living in the surrounding coastal communities are intertwined in important ways that are little understood. The Anloga District around the Angor lagoon in the Volta Region, which features numerous, extensive stands of the country’s three mangrove genera (Rhizophora, Laguncularia, and Avicennia), as well as the Densu delta wetland in the Greater Accra Region, have witnessed degradation from over-exploitation in recent decades. However, replanting interventions within the past six years have also led to some improvements, particularly in the Densu delta wetland. Gaining an understanding of women’s changing dependence on mangroves and how their participation is helping to conserve and restore the country’s mangrove forests can lead to better-informed interventions that engage women so that both mangroves and coastal communities can thrive.  

A 2021 World Bank consultancy aimed to support coastal resilience to erosion, flooding, and pollution by understanding women’s role in mangrove utilization, conservation, and restoration.  Conducted under the West Africa Coastal Areas (WACA) program’s Resilience Investment Project, the consultancy involved both a desk study of the literature and empirical fieldwork at two locations—the Densu delta wetland and the Anloga District around the Angor lagoon in the Volta Region—including the testing of research instruments for future use. Data was collected through face-to-face interviews with women’s groups, individuals, local and institutional key informants, opinion leaders, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and community-based organizations (CBOs). Qualitative sampling procedures were utilized using non-probability techniques. In some cases, boat trips were made to observe women’s participation in mangrove-centric activities, including the harvesting of mangrove wood and other products.   

Women’s mangrove-related activities center mainly on wood and oyster harvesting, supplemented by basket fishing and crab and periwinkle harvesting; and their dependency varies by location. Along the Angor lagoon, native Ewe women are engaged in all activities along the mangrove value chain, from planting and harvesting to transport, processing, and selling. Many in the Anloga District are involved year-round in fish smoking and wood harvesting, which peak during the bumper season for fish (July–September). Dependency on mangrove-centric products for household consumption and income generation is high, and some perceive that mangroves will regrow themselves and never go extinct. Respondents from the Densu delta, where women are primarily engaged in oyster picking for income generation, observe that oyster sizes are smaller than in the past. The traditional practice of “atidja,” whereby fishers leave the mangrove branches and leaves they cut in a lake or lagoon as fishing bait, is depleting oysters and fish, which depend on healthy mangroves for their habitat. Also, hardening of soils from repeated harvesting and replanting cycles has reduced the sizes that mangroves can attain and increased competition from fern grass.       

Recent NGO involvement has engaged women in mangrove management activities and raised community awareness on the importance of preserving these vital ecosystems. In the Anloga District, Sea Water Solutions and Regenerative Resources has trained women in raising mangrove seedlings in nurseries, which it purchases from them once the seedlings are ready for replanting. The Development Institute has established the Mangrove Planters Association, a CBO of both women and men, who perform the same planting activities. The Wild Life Division of the Forestry Commission (WLD of FC), a state agency, provides seedlings for planting, educates communities on habitat restoration, and includes women in afforestation projects. In the Greater Accra Region, the Development Action Association (DAA), with the support of the USAID-funded Sustainable Fisheries Management Project, has brought oyster harvesters together to form the Densu Oyster Pickers Association (DOPA) to manage 50 acres of replanted red (Rhizophora) mangroves. DOPA’s membership consists primarily of women, who raise, transport by boat, and plant the seedlings. As part of the project, members have been trained in oyster ecology and biology, as well as data collection on water quality. The Keta Ramsar Centre, a local NGO, engages women and young people in planting mangroves and educates local chiefs on the value of mangroves so as to allow for planting in their communities.  

Many women supported by the various NGOs indicate a willingness to switch from mangrove-centric activities once they can be trained in alternative livelihoods. Most women who rely heavily on harvesting mangroves for fuelwood have only a basic level of education and struggle to make ends meet. Focus Group Discussion (FGD) participants and individual survey respondents report an average of seven dependents per household, including three children of school-going age. The Anloga District Assembly plans to train mangrove-dependent women in various other livelihoods (e.g., soap making, beekeeping, aquaculture, and dressmaking). Also, in partnership with the Agriculture Department, it plans to introduce women to higher-efficiency stoves for fish smoking to minimize their over-dependence on mangrove fuel. The WLD of FC will establish Acacia woodlots for fuelwood harvesting, and survey respondents suggest establishing woodlots of Neem (Azadirachta indica) since, like mangrove fuelwood, it enhances the taste of smoked fish and has the same preservative attributes.

Addressing women’s economic and mangrove management needs can accelerate the pace of conservation and restoration to improve Ghana’s coastal resilience. Once trained in alternative sources of sustainable income, women can participate more fully in safeguarding mangroves; however, start-up capital for investing in the proposed businesses is required. Oyster pickers highlighted the need for train-the-trainer programs in alternative livelihoods; co-management between communities, district assemblies, and the DAA; and market outlets for their processed and packaged products. To improve mangrove management and sustainable use, respondents recommended more boats to transport seedlings to planting sites; sensitizing community members to the need for longer harvesting and replanting cycles; and creating buffer zones for fish breeding, supported by enforceable laws. The findings demonstrate the win-win potential for women and mangrove conservation and restoration in Ghana and suggest the need for further research in the western and central coastal regions to provide a more complete understanding of the country’s women-mangrove nexus.  

For more on the benefits of mangrove afforestation and restoration programs in Ghana, please see Link to blog on Ghana. Full report can be downloaded here.       

We gratefully acknowledge financial support from World Bank’s PROBLUE Trust Fund. We are grateful to Ms. Norma Adams for her help in writing the blog.

Authors: Nana Amma Anokye, Harriet M. D. Potakey, Susmita Dasgupta and Juan Jose Miranda



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