Forest life

  • April 30, 2013
Forest life

Albert Arhin's research looks at how to reward communities for conservation initiatives and make them see the benefit they can give them.

Policies on conservation and deforestation often fail to help the people who live in rural areas. Albert Arhin’s research focuses on how to reward local communities for conservation initiatives and make them see the benefit they can give them.

He is focusing on REDD Plus, an international climate change framework aimed at rewarding actions that Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries and promoting the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

His research builds on earlier research he conducted looking at REDD and studying the interface between the environment and development. He says emissions from the forestry sector account for 20% of carbon emissions. Reducing deforestation could significantly impact on climate change.

“In Ghana deforestation had increased despite long-term policies on managing forests. People have had little incentive to protect the forest as they didn’t get enough benefit from it,” he says.

Mining

The year before going to Leeds, Albert [2012] did his one-year national service as a university research assistant at the Bureau for Integrated Rural Development (BIRD), a university research centre. His focus was on people living around forests, how they lived and how they benefited from the forest environment. “I was interested in how policies aimed at protecting our forests had pushed these people into poverty, for instance, external companies felled the trees which damaged their crops. The policies were aimed at conserving the forest, but in practice they favoured timber merchants,” he says.

Albert’s role involved assessing the impact of mining activities on local people. They were being evicted from the area around the mine and were being offered lump compensation packages by the mining company.

“They were quite large and people were not used to such amounts of money and it caused all sorts of social upheaval and mismanagement. One man bought four motorcycles and within two years two had broken down. Rather than just paying off the compensation, I was looking at whether the mining company had a responsibility to train the people on how best they could manage the funds as well as how the distribution of its funds could take into account the local economy and the long term impact of the money,” says Albert.

His work experience has spanned natural resource management, health and education, but the main driver behind all of his work is to benefit disadvantaged local communities. Albert himself grew up in a rural community. Born in southern Ghana in a village with a population of around 2,000, his parents are peasant farmers. He is the fourth of nine children and the first to go to university.

As a child he loved reading and listening to the news on the radio. He aspired to be a minister, which meant studying hard, something his parents encouraged.  “My parents did not have the educational opportunities I have had and encouraged me to aim high,” he says.

Between the ages of nine and 15, Albert accompanied by his brothers and sisters would do the one-hour walk from his parents’ farm to his home after school three times a week, carrying vegetables on their heads.

High school

When Albert finished junior high school, he had the highest academic scores in the area, but his parents did not have enough money to send him to secondary school. So they decided to send him to a vocational school instead to study carpentry. However, his father’s cousin was a teacher and said it would be better for Albert to continue his academic studies in a Senior High School. The school said he could start in the second term.

He excelled in maths and social studies and was soon top of his class. In 2003, Albert was honoured by the school for being the best performing candidate in senior high school exams. Although he was interested in business studies, his passion lay in social change and helping people to take charge of their lives. “I was interested in motivating people to rise above the challenges they faced and sought to encourage children from my community to strive to go to senior high school by working as a tutor for local community children, helping them to get their basic education certificate,” he says.

To get to senior high school, Albert initially had to walk seven kilometres each way every day. After a while a friend who lived nearer arranged for him to stay at his lodgings during term time. Albert applied to university and won a place at Kwame University of Science and Technology through a scheme which allowed the best students from rural communities free admission.

He took a four-year degree in development planning after a one-year gap to teach in the local community. At university there was a Fanti Students Union for students from Albert’s Fanti tribe. Through this Albert spent several summer vacations providing free teaching at rural schools. The union selected schools where no students had passed the basic education certificate and worked with the district education authorities. After three years, they began to see a change with nearly all of the students passing their certificate.

In his third year, Albert had to do a compulsory internship with a government institution. He started working for a local district assembly on development planning. He had to talk to local people about what they viewed to be their priorities and prepare a report. “The idea came from central government and was aimed at getting a wide range of perspectives about people’s needs rather than adopting the traditional top-down approach. However, we did more in-depth research than was done in other areas and spent a lot of time with local people,” says Albert.

After doing his one year national service, Albert travelled abroad to do his masters at Leeds University on a Commonwealth Scholarship where he was a joint winner of the prize for the highest grade point on his programme. While there, he began his research on REDD and did some voluntary work on climate change for Oxfam giving talks to local people in the city centre.

He then returned to Ghana, married, had a son and took up a post at Oxfam as a research and policy manager on a programme aimed at reducing maternal mortality. While at Oxfam, he applied to do a PhD at Cambridge building on his work for his masters, looking at policies for rewarding conservation and biodiversity initiatives through REDD Plus. He will spend this summer on fieldwork in Ghana.

Picture credit: www.freedigitalphotos.net and Dan.

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