As agroforestry practices are being introduced to cocoa communities, trees from different species are planted on farms. Registering these trees is critical as it give farmers tree ownership. It also means they benefit financially from any revenue generated from their sale and that, should their registered cocoa tree get destroyed during the felling of economic shade trees, they will receive compensation from the timber merchant.

To facilitate the registration process, Ghana’s Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources (MLNR), along with the sector regulator Forestry Commission (FC), created a tree registration form. Then cocoa and chocolate companies undertook a first-of-its-kind initiative to digitize this form into an innovative mobile application – with capability to work both on and offline. To overcome concerns around the security of these trees and to encourage adoption of the app, some companies have committed to registering all newly planted trees as well as any naturally generated trees, nurtured by the farmer, which were one year old or older.

In the app, the exact information required by the MLNR and the FC is presented, collected and transferred to the in-house administrator for verification and acceptance. All the accepted forms are then printed for the Resource Management Support Center (RMSC) of the FC to conduct on-field verification of the information submitted by individual farmers. Once the verification process is complete, the forms are endorsed. Tree registration is an extensive, complex process. The app not only helps ensure accuracy and easy management of information, but also eases the laborious task of collecting information on individual trees, farms and farmers. Automating these processes saves a huge amount of time compared to manually inputting the data.

Kwame Asumadu, a Forest Management and Conservation Specialist at the United Nations Development Program, commented: “Through collaboration with various stakeholders, we designed a registration form to be used by farmers to register planted trees in off-reserve landscapes. Then, to minimize the multiple tasks in such an arduous process, we developed a mobile application to facilitate the data collection and storage processes.” The app has, for instance, been successfully used to map and register trees planted and nurtured in the Asunafo North and Suhum Districts of Ghana. So far, 38,124 economic trees on 1,584 farms, belonging to 1,271 farmers have been mapped in that area.

Daniel Amponsah, a cocoa farmer in Kasapin Community, Asunafo North District, says it has been a dream come true: “Securing ownership of the trees on our farms is what we have all been pushing for. This registration exercise is so important to us – and such welcome news.”

With extensive collaboration and investment, this project could be scaled up, with more cocoa-growing districts involved.