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16: Conclusions and directions for future research

Research objectives
Research extension
Other recommendations

Edwin A. Gyasi Gotfried T. Agyepong, Elizabeth ArdayfioSchandorf; Lewis Enu-Kwesi, John S. Nabila and Emmanuel Owusu-Bennoah

On the whole, the workshop confirmed the view that changes in the biophysical environment are significantly related to production pressures exerted by environmental actors, who respond variously to the environmental changes, with the majority doing so in a manner that appears to be positive, but not sufficient to prevent the degradation of the environment.

The other workshop findings and conclusions, including recommendations, may be grouped under the headings: PLEC research objectives/themes; methodology; and extension strategies. Much emphasis was placed by the participants on methodology.

Research objectives

The quest for deeper understanding of changes in the biophysical environment and agriculture through systematic studies, with special reference to the humid tropics, home to the world's largest reserves of agrobiodiversity but where this fundamental natural resource and cultural heritage faces the most imminent threat of destruction, was seen as a topmost research priority. However, the investigations should emphasise not only the degradational aspects of the agroenvironmental changes but the positive, constructional, or sustainable aspects as well; highlighting in either case the roles of both human activity or culture and purely natural forces in effecting changes in the environment. Also, the investigations should be designed such that they may serve as a possible basis for applied measures to promote sustainable environmental management practices.

More specifically, the workshop recommended greater emphasis upon:

  1. agrobiodiversity, including historical and baseline information;
  2. mapping of farming systems, both sustainable and unsustainable ones;
  3. hydrological changes;
  4. the role of microbes and long term climatic changes in changing the biota;
  5. trophic, spatial and temporal aspects of biodiversity at the landscape level;
  6. sources of food from the wild, including vegetables and legumes;
  7. the effectiveness of C. odorata in restoring soil fertility, and the potential of this prolific plant for miscellaneous purposes, such as supply of biomass for fuel, pulp, and various other uses reported in the literature and by the farmers;
  8. the cost of clearing C. odorata relative to the actual and potential benefits from it;
  9. soil erosion and indigenous soil conservation methods;
  10. farmers" perception of and responses to environmental change;
  11. farmers' knowledge of agrobiodiversity, including indigenous staple food crops, and plants and animals in the wild;
  12. indigenous systems of agrobiodiversity conservation, including home gardens and other forms of backyard genetic banks, multicrop agroforestry and forest groves, e.g. those at Gyamfiase in a PLEC pilot study site;
  13. indigenous versus exotic agroforestry systems;
  14. the hoe and other implements as a factor in land degradation and biodiversity decline;
  15. the interrelationships between agroenvironmental change on the one hand and socio-economic variables (e.g. population pressure, market forces, migration, tenurial relations, poverty, gender, off-farm job opportunities and agribusiness) on the other;
  16. socio-economic consequences of agroenvironmental change;
  17. the interrelationship between policy and changes in the biophysical environment;
  18. systematic measures for enhancing the quality of the biophysical environment, including agrobiodiversity.


The workshop saw the multidisciplinary approach which was applied to the pilot PLEC study as a logical and appropriate method for studying the multi dimensional biophysical environment, particularly if this method is used within the general conceptual framework of systems theory, in view of the inter- relatedness of environmental processes. It stressed, however, the need for ana lytical rigour through greater emphasis upon statistics and upon quantitative techniques such as correlation, with the analysis guided by multiple alternative hypotheses on biodiversity and climatic change, environmental degradation, farming systems-environmental change, gender role, etc. It saw the survey of biodiversity and land use by transect along footpaths as fairly effective, at least for rapid, exploratory studies, particularly if this procedure is used in conjunc tion with aerial photographs and satellite images. However, multiple linear transects combined with aerial photographs and remotely sensed images were generally thought to be superior. The questionnaire and group discussion approach were also considered to be useful for generating information. However, their application should be more gender balanced. Furthermore, they should be used as far as possible in conjunction with more participatory methods of social research. The importance of archival, archaeological and general historical records was emphasised, as were the social anthropological and landscape-ecological approaches. Other recommendations were the need to:

  1. encourage the Ghana PLEC initiative of integrating policy makers, farmers and other environmental actors into environmental management activities, observations and research;
  2. de-emphasise rapid rural appraisal in favour of more detailed, deliberate methods;
  3. use soil and biodiversity erosion as an index of environmental degradation;
  4. employ women researchers and, if necessary, train women researchers for study on women;
  5. integrate zoologists and other relevant specialists to enhance the multidisciplinary approach;
  6. select study sites on the basis of specific hypotheses;
  7. employ on-farm participatory research methodologies in the studies;
  8. use the durbar or community meeting approach to animate the target groups;
  9. use audiovisual aids for education and the social laboratory approach to enhance the spatial focus of research/demonstration, and to minimize the use of research resources.

Other aspects that were emphasised were the carrying capacity concept; the classification of agrobiodiversity; a more standardised definition of research site; researcher-policy maker-environmental manager linkage by networking; and the replicability of methodologies. Regarding the time frame for studies, the consensus was that the studies should date from as far back as data would permit, to the present time.

Research extension

It was recommended that the PLEC pilot study be used as a basis for extend ing across other agroecological zones in West Africa, in the form of an interim research study entitled "Production Pressures, Changes in the Biophysical Environment, and Sustainability of Small-Farmer Agriculture in West Africa," with a strong focus on Ghana, and exploratory extension to Burkina Faso,Guinea (Conakry) and possibly Côte d'Ivoire. The relevant research proposal was to be finalized and forwarded together with a budget for UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) funding. Professor Gyasi, the West Africa PLEC leader, was mandated to immediately embark upon research extension missions to various universities and research institutions in Ghana (UST, Kumasi; UDS, Tamale; SARI, Nyankpala; SARI, Bawku; and UCC, Cape Coast), and others in Burkina Faso, Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire.

A longer term research proposal on "Small Indigenous Farming Systems, the Environment and Agrobiodiversity Maintenance in West Africa" was to be developed for consideration of funding under GEF (Global Environmental Facility). This proposal is to follow the GEF-UNEP format for proposal preparation.

Networking through country and regional multidisciplinary clusters of re searchers was to be the keystone of the research expansion, with the size of the clusters, other than that at Legon, limited to 2-3 initially.

Other recommendations

A major recommendation was close collaboration between PLEC and UNU/ INRA in areas of ethnobotany, home gardens, genetic erosion, indigenous African food and useful plants and environmental policy and management research, in addition to field visits, postgraduate training and general research capacity building. Other recommendations were:

  1. the nomination of Professor Okigbo as a PLEC, West Africa, Technical Adviser in addition to Professor Benneh;
  2. a bilingual (English-French) Secretary or Research Assistant for the West Africa PLEC Leader/Coordinator;
  3. bilingual (English-French) reports;
  4. collaborative internal and international research;
  5. the need for emphasis to be given to endogenous human resources development among West Africans so that they constitute the core of researchers, who may of course collaborate with scientists from elsewhere;
  6. research capacity building;
  7. the creation of public awareness, especially among scientists, about the meaning, implications and scope of activities involved in the implementation of the UN Convention on Biodiversity;
  8. farmer education on agrobiodiversity and environmental issues; and
  9. further dissemination of the workshop proceedings, including this book of the proceedings.

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