Dr. Kofi Akamani, Assistant Professor in the Department of Forestry at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, is a genuine example of the old adage “a gentleman and a scholar.” His gracious demeanor and diplomatic conversational style underline a great passion for fostering partnership across disciplines, as evidenced through his research work in Human Dimensions in Natural Resource Management. His studies have led Dr. Akamani around the world, and cultivated in him a deep commitment to interdisciplinary methodology; indeed, it is a philosophy of life reflected in his everyday actions as well as his scholarly output. An administrator describes Akamani’s “selfless and unwavering collegiality in all aspects of his work, especially in service to his students and support for his colleagues.” The faculty of SIU’s Department of Forestry, spanning expertise in wildlife management, forestry, soils, watershed management, and forest recreation, appreciate his enthusiasm for cooperative research and writing projects and value his talent for designing useful research and communicating results to broad audiences. He generously serves the campus community on committees and as an advisor to student organizations, and is lead SIU delegate for UCOWR and an associate editor of UCOWR’s Journal of Contemporary Water Research and Education.
Kofi began his post-secondary education in his native country at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Development Planning with specialization in Urban Planning. Dr. Akamani originally thought to continue his studies in Urban Planning, but advisors suggested that the future of planning lay in sustainable development. Kofi was drawn to the newly opened Centre for Development and the Environment (SUM) at the University of Oslo, in Norway, where he received his Master of Philosophy in 2006. This center was a response to the 1987 Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future, which emphasized the need for incorporative approaches to complex global problems. Commission Chair Gro Harlem Brundtland wrote in her foreword:
Perhaps our most urgent task today is to persuade nations of the need to return to multilateralism…The environment does not exist as a sphere separate from human actions, ambitions, and needs, and attempts to defend it in isolation from human concerns have given the very word “environment” a connotation of naivety in some political circles. The word “development” has also been narrowed by some into a very limited focus, along the lines of “what poor nations should do to become richer”, and thus again is automatically dismissed by many in the international arena as being a concern of specialists…But the “environment” is where we all live: and “development” is what we all do in attempting to improve our lot within that abode. The two are inseparable (Brundtland Report: Our Common Future http://www.un-documents.net/ocf-cf.htm).
While at the University of Oslo, Akamani studied the philosophy of Dr. Arne Naess, who coined the phrase “deep ecology.” As Kofi explains it, “deep ecology describes a new way for humans to relate to the natural environment. Humans are not separate from nature – nature viewed as a commodity – but are a part of nature. Deep ecology means regarding each aspect of nature with respect, including humanity.” The implications of deep ecology philosophy upon natural resources management and planning are profound, and shaped the ideas and research questions of Kofi and his cohort group at SUM.
Putting Knowledge into Practice
Seeking to further the application of these ideas brought Kofi to the United States, where he earned his Ph.D. in Natural Resources at the University of Idaho. During his time there Akamani spent 6 months in Ghana to study the impacts of collaborative forest management (CFM) on the social-ecological resilience of two forest-dependent communities in the Ashanti region. Outcomes suggested that though community impacts were largely positive, the household impacts were less so. Recognizing the need for improved instruments to measure impacts of policy at multiple scales, Akamani developed and quantitatively analyzed a community resilience model that incorporates theory on community capital assets and household capabilities to help capture the complexity of assessing outcomes. The model recognizes the importance of access to capital assets and institutions in shaping social responses to drivers of change across multiple scales.
During his doctoral studies Akamani also researched communities in the Pacific Northwest, where changing policies on forest protection were expected to lead to the economic collapse of local logging communities, but, interestingly, did not. Through studying the resiliency of these communities, as well as communities in the Shawnee Forest in southern Illinois, Kofi learned, “where before communities benefitted from harvesting and selling forest products, with forest protections communities responded with amenity-based development. Now the beauty of the forest and its surroundings bring people to visit and to stay in these areas.”
Current Research Projects
Dr. Akamani continues to explore these and other research questions at SIU. Current ecosystem management policies often task managers with restoring forests to a healthy fire adaptive state, so Kofi and his students have looked at restorative economies, or how communities build economic capacity using materials coming from restorative activities (e.g. biomass for alternative fuel). “It is still a big question,” Kofi says. “One challenge is to attract investors. Will there be a regular supply? In some areas protestors can be a disincentive.”
The nearby Cache River provides rich opportunity for research related to transboundary water issues in the region. There, Akamani and his graduate students have been studying the community level impacts of transitioning from an older management style where “engineering was used to maximize the commodity benefit of water,” to the newer management approach that “integrates human dimensions with social values, and local knowledge; in other words, adaptive water governance.” Their goal is to facilitate change. As Akamani states, “The key features of adaptive governance, done right, can contribute positively to the capital assets of a community.” Continuing forward, Kofi’s group is studying adaptive governance and community resilience in light of climate change. “People respond to climate change through adaptation, either sustainable or maladaptive. Responses can be preservative, seeking to maintain the status quo, or they can be transformative, including relocation,” Kofi explains.
Through this research he is working to develop effective measurement tools to clarify levels/scales of resilience in resource-dependent communities affected by changes in climate, which then can help policy makers and managers improve adaptive governance strategies. One of the major challenges Kofi sees to fostering resilience among rural, resource-dependent communities is “the lack of conceptual models for understanding community responses to multiple forces of change. We are still working toward integrating social and ecological science.” His ideal? “[That our research can inform] coherent, integrated policy that coordinates efforts across various sectors – forestry, agriculture, water resources, engineering, mining…looking at factors over entire geographic regions, not just small scale and resource specific.”
Dr. Akamani works tremendously hard to bridge the gaps between specialty areas, between researchers and managers, and between pure science and practical application. His scholarly output is impactful and worth further reading; his thoughtfulness and consideration for all make his impact all the greater.
Resources and further reading:
Personal interview, December 18, 2019.
Brundtland Report: Our Common Future. Available at: http://www.un-documents.net/ocf-cf.htm
Akamani, Kofi and Troy Hall. 2019. Scale and co-management outcomes: Assessing the impact of collaborative forest management on community and household resilience in Ghana. Heliyon 5: 1 – 29. DOI: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2019.e01125.
Akamani, Kofi and Troy Hall. 2015. Determinants of the process and outcomes of household participation in collaborative forest management in Ghana: A quantitative test of a community resilience model. Journal of Environmental Management 147: 1–11. DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2014.09.007.
Elaine Groninger, UCOWR