Despite Togo's status as a low forest cover country, remnant forest patches play an important role in conserving biodiversity and ensuring the well-being of the country's human population. Most of these remnant forest patches are communal lands managed by local family groups, and many are sacred forests, or forests that have been protected due to their role in local religious systems. In recent years, these unique social-ecological systems have been threatened due to the degradation of traditional religion. In three manuscripts, this thesis presents a case study focusing on the social and ecological role of four community forests in and around Kaboli, Togo. The first manuscript compares the ecological value and level of degradation of sacred forests and other community forests based on measurements of tree cover within historic forest boundaries, vegetation composition, biodiversity, and biomass. The second uses focus group interviews to gain an understanding of the social and cultural factors contributing to forest degradation and conservation. Finally, the third manuscript focuses on the effects of westernization on relationships between forests and people in Kaboli. Factors identified as contributing to forest degradation include rapid population growth, overly restrictive government policies, poverty, local land use conflicts, and westernization. Early western influences during the years of the slave trade contributed to the formation of relationships between forests and people in Kaboli while later effects of conservation and development efforts (including religious, political, and economic changes) eroded traditional respect for sacred forests. Communities most successful in conserving their forests are those that have sacred sites within their forests and whose cultural connections to their forests are strongest. The evidence for this is that forests containing sacred sites were significantly less degraded than otherwise similar community forests that did not contain a sacred site, with a species composition more typical of endangered dry forest ecosystems, and higher tree cover, biomass and biodiversity. Communities whose forests contained sacred sites also identified more social and cultural values of community forests than those that did not. Thus, maintaining the traditional cultural connections to these forests might be the most effective way to conserve them.
Thesis (M.S.) University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2017
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Introduction -- Chapter 2. Review of previous investigations -- Chapter 3. Comparison of the ecological value of sacred and non-sacred community forests in Kaboli, Togo -- 4. Social factors associated with the conservation of sacred forests in Kaboli, Togo -- Chapter 5. Effects of the West on human-forest interactions and identity in Kaboli, Togo -- Chapter 6. Conclusion -- Literature cited -- Appendix: interview guide.
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