Header photo: Elephant in Mole National Park, Ghana © Julianna Corbett on Unsplash

In the Savannah Region in Ghana deforestation and poverty go hand in hand. Local IUCN NL partner A Rocha works with the authorities, local communities and businesses on ambitious plans to boost biodiversity and the local economy. IUCN NL supports these efforts by providing expertise in private financing.

The Savannah Region is a sparsely-populated, relatively dry region in the north of Ghana. The region is home to the important Mole National Park, the only protected savannah ecosystem in the country. In this landscape deforestation and poverty go hand in hand. The main driver of deforestation is agriculture; the main effects are erosion, reduced soil fertility, localised climate change and a loss of biodiversity.

At the end of the 1990s, our local partner A Rocha Ghana identified the Savannah Region as a priority region. As of 2010, the problems were exacerbated by charcoal extraction and targeted, illegal rosewood clearing for the Chinese market.

Community governance

In around 2014, Ghana’s government began working with several of IUCN NL’s partners on preparations for a national programme for climate action, nature conservation and forest restoration. The proposal was honoured by the World Bank providing millions; if successful, tens of millions more is foreseen. In the proposal the Savannah landscape is included as a pilot and the Community Resource Management Area (CREMA) is key as a management model. In this model, which has been actively tested, rolled out and studied by IUCN NL and landscape partners, the local community has an important say in managing the natural resources.


A Rocha Ghana and IUCN NL are already working on ideas that are consistent with the national programme for the Savannah Region. They actively bring local communities, the authorities and private parties together to set up community-based conservation and achieve forest restoration in two ways: through natural regeneration and active reforestation.

Natural restoration occurs by conserving degraded forest and by helping farmers to, for example, leave economically beneficial shea trees to grow. Active planting mainly involves opting for varieties that produce nuts, fruits or seeds that can be sold, such as tamarind, cashew and mango trees. This approach benefits nature and the economy. The extra trees store CO2, contribute to biodiversity, improved water management and more fertile soil; at the same time they form an interesting, sustainable alternative source of income for the local population.


In this process IUCN NL brings parties together and develops tools to facilitate (private) finance for green projects (green finance). ‘We support our partner A Rocha Ghana, with, for example, a sustainability test for the companies that plant and protect the trees and trade the products,’ explains Jan Willem den Besten, Senior Expert Green Finance with IUCN NL. ‘We also brought parties together to develop promising business cases for tradeable products, such as sustainable cassava and honey, and organically produced shea nuts, the fats of which are used as an alternative to palm oil.’

Sustainable shea oil

The business case for shea nuts was highly successful. Shea nuts originate from the shea or karité tree, found scattered across the savannah. Good management of the shea trees benefits biodiversity and the economy, as well as the position of local women that harvest the nuts. The oil from the nuts looks like cocoa butter and can be used in the cosmetics and food industries. In the long term, shea oil could account for a market share of 10-20% of the global market in fats and oils. Den Besten: ‘This means the people profit from the trees and this provides an incentive to leave them to grow and protect them more effectively, including by not using pesticides in the surrounding area.’

Charcoal, shea nuts and carbon credits

The various Savannah projects have led to a much larger project for the conservation and restoration of 120,000 hectares of Savannah forest in the Mole National Park buffer zone. For this project start-up capital was used from the IUCN NL Mobilising More for Climate initiative, which is funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The project could potentially result in a reduction of up to 400,000 tons of CO2 a year, over three hundred sustainable jobs and a significant gain in biodiversity.

With IUCN NL and the company Form International, A Rocha Ghana is developing several business cases for this project, including for more sustainable charcoal and shea oil. There are also plans to generate carbon credits by conserving Savannah forest. There is a good chance that finance will be obtained from development banks for these initiatives. Over the coming years, efforts will focus on attracting private funding for these sustainable economic activities.

Integrated investment model

Several returns on investments can be identified in these developing business cases, for the economy as well as for nature. Den Besten: ‘We incorporate these investment opportunities in an integrated landscape investment plan. This plan involves all sectors in the wider area. When public and private investors collaborate in this way you can achieve a far greater impact than if you concentrate on a single function of the landscape.’

Buffer for protected area

Mole National Park, in the north of the Savannah Region, also benefits from these developments. The largest game reserve in Ghana is home to elephants, hippos and several species of antelope, among other animals. The new sustainable economy in the areas directly around the park work like a buffer against more intensive forms of land use, and thus reduce the pressure on the protected area.


  • 2014: The government of Ghana receives many millions of dollars to combat deforestation and take climate action. The Savannah landscape around Mole serves as one of the pilot landscapes for this programme.
  • 2015-2016: Savannah Fruits Company trains local communities in organic shea production and harvesting.
  • 2017 Construction of a warehouse for storing shea nuts, financed by IUCN NL. In the same year, A Rocha Ghana hands the warehouse over to the local communities.
  • 2017-2019: Nurseries for indigenous trees offering economic and natural value are tested and set up with the company Form International. Elsewhere in the region businesses and non-profit organisations adopt this concept and the principles.
  • 2018: IUCN NL partner A Rocha provides advice on a major proposal for the Green Climate Fund to tackle deforestation in the Savannah Region.
  • 2020: A Rocha starts working with Form International to facilitate the restoration and conservation of 120,000 hectares of Savannah forest and set up plantations for sustainable charcoal production.
  • 2021: The Green Climate Fund grants the major proposal of A Rocha Ghana to tackle deforestation and landscape degradation in the Savannah Region.

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