NCRC endorses a simple core philosophy that conservation in Ghana will only be successful in settings where the affected local communities obtain tangible economic returns and cultural incentives for its implementation. Conservation also must emerge from local cultural belief systems, so that culture and economics are linked as core elements.
Relevant cultural practices include taboos, sacred sites and indigenous value systems. For example NCRC built on traditional taboos against harming sacred monkeys to create highly successful ecotourism projects in Ghana’s Tafi Atome and Boabeng-Fiema communities. The biodiversity and economic development results over a decade in both locations have been impressive.
NCRC has created a Conservation Model that builds on this philosophy. For the past 100 years resource conservation in Africa has largely followed the internationally-established system of national parks and reserves sanctioned by international conventions. This traditional model is heavily influenced by western science and conservation organisations. Local communities have been largely ignored or viewed as a problem.
The creation of hundreds of African protected areas would seem to indicate success for this approach. Ghana, for example, has approximately 6% of its terrestrial area gazetted as wildlife protected areas.
But, in reality, this model is largely failing. Few African governments provide the political and financial support required for effective protection. Parks and reserves have limited opportunities for self-generated revenue and have few partnerships with private sector tourism, resulting in dependence on external donor funding. Laws are rarely enforced, resulting in a management vacuum with poaching and farming incursions by local populations.
Indigenous communities are often not compensated when parks and reserved lands are placed under government control. Even in instances where compensation is provided, it seldom ensures returns for future generations. Thus, the process often de-links indigenes from their land, disrupting existing management regimes and creating alienation. Poverty remains very high in the vast majority of communities surrounding parks and reserves. Without proper management, local people eventually exercise ever-increasing de-facto decision-making over parks and reserves, usually making choices that do not favor conservation.
In Ghana NCRC found an opportunity to test alternative strategies. This resulted in the creation of a model for Community Protected Areas (CPAs), where communities themselves champion and manage sustainable conservation projects that provide tangible returns. Today NCRC has partnerships with over 30 communities in Ghana, through which a variety of projects are being developed. Six of those communities have evolved to the level of creating formal CPAs.