Viability of a Cost Recovery Model for Farm-Level Tenure Documentation and Tree Tenure Registration: Experiences from the Asankrangwa Stool

Executive Summary 

The United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) program is carrying out a two-year Supporting Deforestation-Free Cocoa in Ghana activity, building on the work of USAID’s previous Tenure and Global Climate Change (TGCC) program. TGCC worked in the community of Nyame Nnae in Asankrangwa Stool in Wassa Amenfi District; local farmers were provided with land documentation approved by the Stool Chief, free of charge. Under the ILRG activity, subcontractor Meridia offered farmers in four communities in Asankrangwa a FarmSeal certificate of ownership, approved and recorded by the Stool Chief, with some cost subsidization by USAID. The cost subsidies were provided to try to create a level playing field so that all farmers, regardless of social category and relative wealth, could afford the cost of the documentation. The subsidy covered 20 to 70 percent of the cost of farm documentation.

This report is a summary of the work that Meridia carried out under the USAID ILRG project in four communities in the Asankrangwa Stool and reflects primarily the points of view of the field team delegated with the tasks of carrying out a sub-contract with Tetra Tech, the project implementing partner. The views expressed in this report are of the Meridia team itself and do not reflect policy positions by either USAID or the ILRG Ghana activity. An impact evaluation planned by the USAID Communication Evidence and Learning (CEL) project will be carried out to test, validate, or refute the findings and perspectives of the Meridia team Hopefully, the perspectives from field implementation experience will guide a more in-depth impact evaluation.

The Meridia FarmSeal service consists of a process of conducting community outreach and dialogue to introduce the service to farmers, mapping farm parcels and other geographic features, setting a sliding fee scale based on farm parcel size, and then registering the rights with the customary authorities. The service requires farmers to pay some, if not the majority, of the costs of the final FarmSeal document. By the end of Meridia’s initial efforts, 842 parcels had been mapped (591 male, 201 female, 47 no data because parcels were mapped but farmers never made themselves available for household interviews), with 766 farmers consenting to the mapping services (1.1 farms per farmer). Despite Meridia’s intensive community outreach and dialogue to encourage farmers to buy into the service, only 70 FarmSeal documents were sold, a far lower rate than anticipated. From Meridia’s perspective (recognizing that the USAID Communications, Evidence and Learning [CEL] project will conduct an evaluation of the land documentation process) (Persha et al, 2020) , low sales were due to the following major factors:

  • Farmers believed that the FarmSeal documents should be free because certificates were previously issued in Nyame Nnae at no cost under the TGCC pilot. While this was an experimental and pilot initiative, farmers nevertheless felt that the ILRG project possessed the means to distribute free FarmSeal certificates and thus that all farmers in the area should be treated equally.
  • Farmers held limited funds to pay for FarmSeal services due to the poor financial viability of cocoa farming.
  • One of the influential village chiefs, an odikro, expressed his view that the purchase of FarmSeal documentation would not preclude the need to negotiate new tenure arrangements with landowners when current tenancy arrangements come to an end, generally at the point when cocoa fields must be replanted after old age or disease. Even though the ILRG and Meridia team believed at the outset of land documentation that the customary tenure agreements would hold firm, this single disagreement led to a major impasse (see Section 2.2.5 below for more detail). Since a large number of trees in the pilot villages are indeed in need of replacement, the concern raided by the odikro seemed well-founded to other chiefs.

In order to reach the project’s target of at least 520 documents delivered,1 a joint decision between USAID and the ILRG Ghana task team was made to change the delivery approach and deliver all FarmSeal documents for free or for a token amount of 20 cedis (about USD $3.50) per parcel.

This report summarizes the lessons learned thus far through the experience gained in the four pilot villages. The major lessons are summarized here in order to inform similar land documentation approaches in Ghana and elsewhere.

  • The land documentation pilot led to a deeper understanding of the applicability of the pricing model in Ghana’s cocoa-growing areas. Meridia prepared a pricing spectrum model from fully commercial sales to full subsidization, with an intermediate cost recovery model, depending on underlying situational factors. Although ILRG initially took the cost recovery approach, in the end the project had to return to a full subsidization model.
  • The willingness to pay for a farm documentation service is determined by a wide range of factors. From the perspective of Meridia, in hindsight, it now seems that the cost recovery model may have been doomed from the outset because the previous USAID TGCC project in the Asankangrawa Stool had provided free certificates in a nearby community. This key conclusion should be more fully addressed by the endline evaluation that will be carried out by the USAID CEL project. But other factors are also at play: support from traditional leaders for a fee-for-service is essential, but in Asankrangwa, the acting stool chief may not have exercised as much influence as a fully sitting chief. Ultimately, the farmers themselves need to perceive the benefits of land documentation. Strong demand for the service did not emerge for many reasons, but perhaps principally because landowners remain convinced of their rights and authority over land, and the abunu tenant farmers remain cognizant of their subordinate status.
  • The central premise of the cost recovery initiative and the experiment in the four pilot villages was to reduce dependency on donor subsidization of land documentation. While the techniques of land documentation (mapping, establishing databases, and issuing certificates) are now refined, the heart of the issue – subsidization – is not resolved. In other parts of Ghana, it appears that farmers want to purchase land documentation services, possess a greater ability to pay, and are thus they are willing to pay for a greater share of a FarmSeal document. Since this is not the case in the four ILRG villages of the Asankrangwa Stool, the verdict is still out. In situations like those in the Asankrangwa Stool, land documentation will mostly likely continue to require subsidization by government, the private sector, or donors.
  • Under TGCC, Meridia carried out a pilot land documentation initiative focused on documenting customary rights as found at the time in the community through a process of dialogue and discussion with community members and traditional authorities. Contrary to other similar land documentation projects in Ghana, Meridia did not try to fit the documentation process into the statutory framework or generic customary title documents circulating around the country. The systemic complexities of fee-for-service land documentation described in this report still remain at the stool level and especially around the maintenance of land records, whether through a subsidized service delivery model or not. Maintenance of land records at the stool level through the customary land secretariats is difficult across all the secretariats in Ghana, and government commitment to adequate financing and support of these secretariats is generally lacking.

Through the ILRG program in Ghana, Meridia will still be able to test the Ghana°Ground approach and technology, a method to collect and store land records on tablets that will enable the customary land secretariats to gain immediate insight into all documented landholdings and use this information to help prevent and mediate conflicts.