Examining the Contributing Factors to the Bushmeat Trade and Crisis in Ghana

The paper examines contributory factors facilitating the Bushmeat trade in Ghana, reveals the multiplicity and complex nature of the trade, some conservation measures attempted to control the trade and crisis and suggests avenues for future research and policy makeovers.

Keywords: Bushmeat, Ghana, Crisis, Wildlife, Trade

1 Introduction:

The unsustainable and illegal harvest of bushmeat occurring at a commercial scale is a primary threat facing many wildlife species in Ghana today. Bushmeat, the meat of wild animals, is a highly valuable wildlife commodity in Ghana and has gone from traditional, subsistence to mainly commercial trade. By some estimate, Ntiamoa-Baidu, 1998, found that the once traditional way of life, has evolved into a $350 million dollar industry in Ghana that threatens endangered animals driving several primate species in the Upper Guinea forest to the brink of extinction. This has come at an enormous cost to a country that lacks the resources to assure sustainable management of their natural resource potential. Distinctive amongst the species is the Miss Waldron’s Red Colobus Monkey (Procolobus Badius Waldroni), a primate taxon endemic to the forest regions of Ghana and enlisted as extinct by IUCN Red List 2006.

Obviously the current unsustainable pattern appears to be the outcome of overexploitation evidenced by the extensive outtake of species. The multiplicity and complex nature of the trade suggest various contributing factors facilitating the bushmeat crisis. I examine these factors, reveal some avenues for policy makeovers and suggest opportunities for future research.

2 General Background

The ‘bushmeat crisis’ is a term without succinct definition. A much general definition would be the unsustainable exploitation of wildlife for human consumption leading to widespread loss of wildlife populations, further endangerment of species, and diminished livelihoods for current and future generations of wildlife-dependent communities. It is an agonizing topic for anyone concerned for wildlife. In a distant past, large areas of Ghana’s forest and savanna lands supported significant and diverse populations of wild animals and were the main source of animal protein, biogenetic resources, a symbol of cultural identity and ethnic origin. (Conservation International, Ghana, 2005).

Today in Ghana a rather brutal slaughter is going on, only this time, instead of arable farm animals the victims are the monkeys, porcupines, and duikers etc, locally called ‘nwuramunam’ . Bushmeat trade, in the manner currently operated is equal not only to the illegal trade in exotic wildlife but the illegal drug trade which emphasize more on profits of trade. The multibillion-dollar trade in bushmeat according to Brashares et al., 2004, is among the most immediate threats to the persistence of tropical vertebrates, with minimal empirical data and understanding on the underlying drivers and effects on human welfare.

Very little attention is paid to wildlife habitats but meeting the demands of the burgeoning middle class either in the urban centres or in international cities, who consider eating bushmeat a delicacy. To some, the problem is lack of adequate laws and their enforcement. Others claim it is poverty. However on close examination, the trade reveals contributing factors either than the popular poverty maxim. It is hoped that this exploratory report would reveal these many problems contributing to this ecological predicament in Ghana.

2.1.1 A Brief Description of Ghana and the Bushmeat Trade

Many scholars have indicated the existence of the bushmeat trade from of old. Grubb et al., 1998, indicated that the bushmeat trade has a long history in Ghana. Clark, 1994 commented that trade in smoked game in Ghana has been in existence since the fifteenth century. Some estimates by Ntiamoa-Baidu, 1998 indicate that every year 385 million kg of bushmeat are harvested (estimated at US$350 million) and 92 million kg are marketed (US$83 million). A recent research by Cowlishaw et al., 2003 revealed a general trend with the major animal groups being rodents (59% of total mass), duikers (25%), and invertebrates (15%) and a less than one percent being primates. A probable implication of the latter maybe the result of primates extirpations or a change of consumer taste has occurred or probably trade in meat of primates may have been attracted into some sought of black market.

A study by Tutu et al., 1993 revealed the Kantamanto market in Accra, Atwemonom market in Kumasi and the Tarkoradi market in Tarkoradi as notable bushmeat market centers in Ghana. The city of Kumasi alone has three vibrant bushmeat market centers, Atwemonom, Kejetia and Central markets. These markets are highly organized as small family businesses passed on from one generation to the next.

Comparing the volume, weights and prices of the animals entering the Kantamanto market in 1974, 1985 and 1993, an FAO report 1993 revealed that whilst the composition and volume of individual species marketed varied from year to year the price per head of all species had increased several times fold and there was no indication of decreases in the sizes of animals being hunted. This would suggest that although the populations of most wild animal species are believed to be declining in the West African sub-region, hunters continue to put sufficient effort into hunting to maintain supply levels.

2.1.2 Actors in the Bushmeat Trade

According to Falconer, 1992, there are five main types of actors participating in the bushmeat commodity chain in Ghana and come in distinctive divisions among groups. These are commercial hunters, farmer hunters, wholesalers, market traders and local restaurants operators commonly referred to as ‘chopbars ‘. ‘Chopbars’ are local restaurants that specialize in the preparation of traditional meals recipes containing ‘nwuramunam’. Falconer further reveals that commercial and farmer hunters are mostly men, operating in rural areas whilst the wholesalers, market traders and chopbar owners are all women. Ntiamoa-Baidu, 1998, commented that commercial hunters are full-time hunters who depend on the trade in bushmeat as their primary source of income. Farmer hunters on the hand are part-time hunters who hunt bushmeat in order to supplement their income from the seasonal agricultural produce. Although retailers claim the activity is seasonal, research has revealed more fulltime operators than part time. Out of 300 bushmeat retailers interviewed in 2001 through a Conservational International Study in 2002, 61.4% were found to be full-time bushmeat traders’ whiles 38.6% respondents stated that they engage in the trade only during times of the year when they cannot find any income generating alternatives. This suggests that a greater portion of the sampled retailers depend on the trade at full time basis. Below is a suggested pattern of interaction suggested by Cowlishaw et al. 2003.


Particularly unrevealing is evidence on the investment behaviour of the ‘capitalist’ bushmeat entrepreneurs. What levels of profits do they make and where do they invest them? Back into the sub-sector or elsewhere? Most importantly, commentaries are silent on the illegal rogue economic actors who in my opinion are the most active and destructive. Information about them is not forth coming but they exist to sustain the crisis.

3 Contributing Factors to the Bushmeat Trade

A vital significance of this issue is the complex nature of its contributing factors.

Almost certainly, the key facilitating reason for the sudden increase in the bushmeat trade is logging. [Ape Alliance, 1998]. Ghana is a major producer of tropical timber in an African industry dominated by international logging companies. As they plow into the forests, they not only destroy and fragment African wildlife habitats, but they also expedite the bushmeat trade. Logging roads are used by bushmeat hunters to gain access to the deep forest and to transport the bushmeat out of the forest to markets, often with logging trucks . As much as the local people should be held accountable for the trade, international loggers must equally be held responsible too.

The emergence of intensified hunting strategies continues to contribute immensely to this wildlife demise. According to the Conservation International study in 2002, six methods of hunting were identified in Ghana. Methods include guns (60%), chemicals (32.5%), fire (3.2%), dogs (2.8%), cutlasses/clubs (1.3%) and traps (0.2%) as depicted in Fig 2. It is however interesting that among these six methods only guns and traps are approved legally by the LI 685 of 1971 under the Ghana Wildlife Law. [GWD, 1999]. The high use of guns as a hunting strategy continues to be of concern to conservationist in Ghana. Molade, 2000 have indicated that most professional hunters use rifles and other licensed automatic weapons. It is quite unfortunate how trapping, with time has been neglected. Trapping though non-selective it is less destructive. The survey revealed only about 0.2% use of traps and it’s the only sanctioned method under the wildlife law whilst the use of dogs, fire and cutlasses have no legal backing the Ghana Wildlife Law [GWD, 1998].

The widespread use of chemicals in hunting remains another crucial contributing factor that needs to be urgently addressed. Chemical use is not selective and kills indiscriminately. Consumption of the affected meat poses deleterious health risks to consumers. Two types of chemicals identified by the Conservation International Ghana study were organophosphates and organochlorine. A locally prepared concoctions referred to as ‘tangen or local poison’ was also identified by the study. Tangen is prepared by grinding the roots and bark of an indigenous tree called ‘Nkradadua ‘ and broken bottles, mixed with some urine and kept for two weeks. Mixing it with any meal would kill instantly. [Oral Source].

The use of fire in hunting is rather prevalent in the grassland savannah areas of Ghana. This is usually done in groups locally termed as ‘floater ‘ with the indication of scattering the animals with the use of fire. Members of the group are positioned strategically whilst fire is set around wildlife habitats. Animals are chased with dogs and cutlasses as they try to escape from the fire.

A maxim propagated through time as reason for this hideous trade is poverty. Some say that the exacerbations of poverty have fuelled bushmeat trade whilst others debunk that idea due to its unsustainable paucity. [Ntiamoa-Baidu, 1998]. According to Robinson and Bennett (2002), the twin imperatives of addressing people’s needs and conserving the world’s species, has suggested the alleviating poverty as an antidote to solve the bushmeat crisis. The perspective continuously being contested is the onerous view if alleviating poverty can stop the crisis. Although the importance of bushmeat hunting as a component of livelihoods is widely recognized, its implications have not been extensively analyzed. Bowen-Jones et al., 2002, in their assessment for solution orientated research to promote a more sustainable bushmeat trade indicated that bushmeat use is primarily driven by nutritional need for animal protein and as a livelihood. However this view may be seriously misleading. It encourages the view that bushmeat extraction for trade will readily be reduced through the provision of alternative protein foods. Hard evidence on the extent to which the bushmeat trade is sustainable as a livelihood is difficult to come by. Most available data are qualitative and based on researchers’ perceptions. There is therefore the need for better baseline and longer term monitoring information to inform the sustenance of the trade and its impact on wildlife if any idea of livelihood could be nurtured. Wildlife populations, dynamics and rate of extinction by off-takes must be accessed under the available best practice to provide information to overcome the generally assumed impacts of the trade. One should also be careful in nurturing the trade of bushmeat as a livelihood in market driven indigenous economies. This looks rather uncertain. There is no guarantee that the trade will generally guarantee favourable outcomes for poor people and there is no justification that its long-term sustainability may be an objective of those who may be involved in the trade. Potentially the private sector could capture the market rather than by those marginalized rural poor peasant. The onerous application of demand and supply may have untold consequences on bushmeat as a commodity of trade.

It is also interesting how indigenous people continues to be accused worldwide due to their efforts to sustain the trade whiles little, if not nothing, is being done to address the international demand for wildlife resource. It is obvious that sustained demand directly motivates supply. It is time the government to look at its tourism promotion drive vis a vis the bushmeat trade. Ghana in 1985 moved up from the seventeenth position to eighth in 1998 among the top 20 leading tourism revenue-earners in Africa [WTO, 1999]. According to World Tourism Organization, International tourist arrivals in Ghana has increased steadily from nearly 114,000 in 1988 to about 348,000 in 1998, at an annual average growth rate of about 20 percent. With respect to tourist’s expenditure, international tourism receipts grew at an average annual rate of 41.3 percent from about $55.3 million in 1988 to about $285 million in 1998. This makes tourism the third largest earner of foreign exchange currently, ranking behind mineral and cocoa exports in Ghana. It therefore does not follow logic for the government to sacrifice this achievement for trade in bushmeat. The challenge rather is to find ways of harnessing this significant potential for wildlife-based growth to ensure that it benefits poor people.

Recent studies have also identified emerging infectious wildlife transference diseases and its risk to human health. Studies of SIV (Simian Immunodeficiency Viruses) infection have revealed the risk for acquiring SIV infection which is expected to be highest in persons who hunt primates, prepare their meat for consumption or keep them as pets. [Peeters et al., 2002]. The handling of freshly butchered bushmeat, in particular primates, brings about a risk of transmission of new zoonoses the report reveals. This risk, though cannot be adequately assessed because the prevalence, diversity, and geographic distribution of SIV infections in wild primate populations are unknown, it however clearly implies a probably potential health hazard which should discourage the consumption and trade of wildlife meat especially primates.

It is also important to mention that natural resource-related legislation in Ghana as in most part of Africa has been long based on the preservationist logic governed by national legislations with an ‘assumed sense’ of protection. Prior to the 1920s, communities in Ghana managed their wildlife resources through traditional rules that protected some species and regulated exploitation. [Kotey et al., 1998]. Most West African countries adopted since the colonial periods a highly centralized, state-controlled protectionist approach to wildlife management. The aim of this protectionist approach is to control and regulate resource use, enforce regulations, monitor resource condition and use patterns and impact and where possible deter illegal and unsustainable use pattern practices. The first forest policy on wildlife was prepared in 1948 with little or no defined guides to ensure the protection of wildlife. The government later developed a conservation policy, which was adopted in 1974 as the Ghana Wildlife Conservation Policy (1974). The main deficiencies of this policy were its strict protectionist approach and its failure to involve local communities in managing their wildlife resources. The year 1994 witnessed the formation of the Ghana Forestry and Wildlife Policy, which fortunately elevated the Wildlife Department to become a full-fledged Wildlife Agency when it became obvious that most of the provisions in the old policy could not adequately deal with the totality of the emerging issues.

A major contributing factor to the failure of these policies has been the overly technocratic style of policy formulation with little input from customary regulations for which hunters and the general public understand. Evidently, present day legislation has a poor recognition of human contribution to the development of landscapes and biodiversity thus creating the unfortunate perception that wildlife management is the responsibility of state institutions. Rather than reinforcing the powers of local authorities (including decentralized local government), most program serve to diminish local ownership, being expatriate-led, top-down and trivially observe local potential. At the same time, the enforcement of government laws are not adequately effective because there is a serious lack of resources, and a poor capacity to monitor national regulations nation-wide. For example, on the basis of national statistics, it is usually argued that the number of field agents active in wildlife issues is usually 1 person for 50,000 to 85,000 hectares, in most of West African countries. [Kotey et al 1998]. This situation is worsened by the very poor equipment of these agents (lack of transportation means, communication, shelter, extension tools, etc), and the fact that a majority of them are part-time workers. Interestingly, Ntiamoa-Baidu [1998] found that hunter income was the same as an entry-level graduate Wildlife Officer and 3.5 times the government minimum wage. It is obvious what the implications are.

4 Recommendations for Future Research

According to Salafky et al., (2002) any effective conservation would require addressing three fundamental questions whose answers can only be sought in conservation practice: (i) What should our goals be and how do we measure progress in reaching them? (ii) How can we most effectively take action to achieve conservation? And; (iii) how can we learn to do conservation better? Extinction is truly irreversible, once gone, individual species and all of the services that they provide us cannot be brought back. Objective scientific information and methods are needed in Ghana for listing species, subspecies, and distinct population segments as endangered or threatened under the wildlife laws. While non-scientific factors should appropriately be considered, biological defensible principles are immediately needed. Critical scientific information should not only include current empirical data, but also, for example, historic habitat and population information, population surveys, captive breeding, behavioural data, habitat and population modelling, and taxonomic and genetic studies. Recovery plans must be prepared based on the best available science identifying threats, mitigate those threats, and must predict how species and their entire bio-synergy are likely to respond to mitigation measures that may be adopted.

Another area worth researching for further redress to the crisis in Ghana is investigating the linkages between indigenous people knowledge in biodiversity conservation. Campbell (2005) commented on the insufficient attention paid in recent literature to the social and environmental factors which regulate hunting in Ghana. An analysis by Hens (2006) on series of biodiversity related subjects in Ghana show that indigenous knowledge has the potential to contribute to the conservation of species, genes and ecosystems. As Rose, 2000, puts it, conservation must pursue human-nature bio-synergy in the era of social chaos and bushmeat commerce. A recent survey by the Conservation International on totems in Ghana revealed that over 200 totems in Ghana are represented by wildlife, and among these about 98% of these animals are endangered, threatened or extinct. [Conservation International 2003]. Totems which some suggest have helped to conserve wildlife in the past have been rendered ineffective by this ferocious trade which rarely observes wildlife rules. The local people’s culture and its symbiotic relationships between animals are therefore considerably threatened. As these cultural objects and perspectives become endangered their roles in biodiversity conservation become meaningless. Chiefs, tribes and clans could begin the search to restore their totems with the attributes of the wild. A typical example is the cultural efforts undertaken at the Buabeng Fiema Monkey Sanctuary in Ghana . As part of the indigenous people’s commitment to conservation, they have maintained sacred groves and protected areas of forest that have a strong cultural and religious significance. The groves are sacred sanctuaries for wildlife and home for the Campbell’s Mona Monkeys and the Geoffrey’s Pied Colobus Monkeys. According to Fajey (1992) and Ntiamoah-Baidu (2002) villagers who live in the Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary traditionally have a taboo against killing these black-and-white Colobus (polykomos) and mona monkey (Cercopithecus campbelli), which inhabit the forest around their villages. The reconciliation of the diverse views and perspectives on conservation at this stage is most critical. This in no doubt affects the socio-cultural life of many communities in Ghana that are inextricably linked with wildlife. Thus our history and culture are in danger says Okyeame Ampadu-Agyei . It is about time all endeavour are brought to bear on all conservation efforts.

At the very heart of this complex phenomenon is the reasoning questioning the critical importance of wildlife to local people and how dependent they are on wildlife. In looking for solutions further research could be extended to assess pragmatic mechanisms for working through wildlife to reduce poverty and improve livelihood. Any effort to enhance trade without critical reference to some of these important questions would have disparaging ecological impacts on the environment.

It is also essential to note why people would prefer meat to fish even though significant freshwater fish stocks exist in many bushmeat source areas. [Redford and Robinson, 1987]. Fish farming, as a substitute animal protein should be supported to reduce the demand for bushmeat. Probably the preference for hunting over fishing is largely cultural, and indicative of some kind of irrational preference for meat on the part of consumers. Some scholars are with the view that fishing tends to become more attractive when human population densities increase to the point where returns to farming and hunting decline appreciably [Boserup, 1965]. This assertion may be a general case and further studies should be pursued to study the decision-making issues involved in selecting either bushmeat or fish.

Furthermore, the development of captive breeding or game farming could be supported as an alternative to active hunting of wild animals. Several authors have advocated for captive breeding of game species as an alternate way to satisfy local demand without compromising the wild stock. [Auzel and Wilkie, 2000]. There is evidence that major species with potential for domestication have long since been discovered especially for grasscutters in Ghana. An analysis of differential benefits and conservation impacts of alternative modes of production compared to the wild harvesting would be most appropriate. This has obvious attractions where bushmeat fetches a high price [Asibey and Child, 1990], and logically, it could lead to a reduced demand for bushmeat. Probably more pilot schemes could be established to test the viability of such game ventures.

5 Conclusion and Summary

It is very clear that the bushmeat trade leading to the crisis has been motivated by several other factors than poverty, as popularly claimed. The multiplicity of the problems require a multi-disciplinary approach both in decision making and policy enforcements. Though a number of conservation organizations have raised the alarm over these issues an effective action would require the cooperation of all stakeholders, including governments, conservation groups, scientist, cultural and religious groups, logging companies, and both local and international consumers. This has become necessary because it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish traditional from commercial hunting. Severe knowledge gaps on the phenomenon needs to be addressed before concrete conclusions can be made. Wildlife conservation in Ghana must pursue the bio-synergy of humanity and nature in order to find alternative ways to satisfy the human needs that drive the destructive commercial trade in wildlife bushmeat. It is at this point clear that when wildlife is gone, it goes with it all its important benefits, be it protein for the poor or ecosystem diversity. And without the animals, any shot at sustaining tourism in Ghana is history. Adams (2004) poses a question for conservation managers in the 21st century. He says ‘the big question for the 21st century must not only be broader, nor how to stop species but how to prevent our dazzling technical capacity and our seemingly endless desire to consume natures diversity, from fatally undermining the resilience of the biosphere’. No piecemeal strategy will stand this complex bushmeat trade phenomenon in Ghana.

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by Kwame Boakye-agyei

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