Ghana is the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa likely to meet both the Millennium Development Goals of halving the proportion of people in poverty, and the proportion of people who are hungry, by 2015.
In a study of Ghana’s story IFPRI experts have called the country ‘a prime candidate to champion economic transformation in Africa.’ They state that Ghana should grab the ‘unique opportunity for the front-running African countries to set examples on how to achieve economic transformation and prosperity on the continent’.
But there is a side to this narrative that deserves even more attention: Ghana’s quiet and steady agricultural revolution.
According to the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), Ghana’s agricultural sector has grown by an average of about 5% per year during the past 25 years, making it one of the world’s top performers in agricultural growth. Further successes include:
- Between 1990 and 2004, Ghana cut hunger levels by 75%.
- Undernourishment went down to 8% by 2003, from 34% in 1991.
- Child malnutrition declined, with the proportion of infants underweight falling from 30% in 1988 to 17% in 2008.
- Political and economic reforms reduced the percentage of the population living in poverty from 52% in 1991-92 to 28.5% in 2005-06.
- Rural poverty fell from 64% to 40% between 1981 and 2007.
- By 2005/07, staple food production per person was more than 80% higher than it was in 1981/83.
This agricultural transformation has been driven by sound governance and a strengthening of the enabling environment. As an ODI Paper explains, economic reforms beginning in 1983 devalued the cedi (Ghana’s currency) and transformed the cocoa marketing board (COCOBOD) allowing for greater competition in the sector. The resulting cocoa boom that saw smallholders benefit from increasing cocoa prices, stimulated growth in the rural economy as a whole.
John Agyekum Kufuor, President of Ghana from 2001-09, was named a World Food Prize laureate in 2011 for his leadership and commitment to tackling hunger in Ghana during his time in office. In an essay for IFPRI, he described his administration’s rural development plan which combined the education of farmers, investment in agricultural research, and economic incentives to farmers to boost yields. Between 2002 and 2005 cocoa produced in Ghana doubled from 350,000 to 734,000 tons, an all-time record in more than a century of cocoa farming in the country. Kufuor said his government also invested in infrastructure such as feeder roads, warehouses, and cold stores for horticultural crops.
Both the cocoa boom and the government’s support of agricultural research paved the way for the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to develop new varieties of high-yielding, low-input and disease-resistant cassava that have been widely adopted. Economic growth in the country also stimulated greater domestic demand and with it, emerging agricultural opportunities in roots and tubers, livestock and vegetables. Tomato production, for example, increased by more than six times between 1985 and 1997. This is a virtuous circle at work with agricultural growth boosting rural development in turn creating new agricultural opportunities.
For the future ODI lists Ghana’s challenges as ‘overcoming some of the market failures in access to credit and inputs; using more irrigation; increasing farmers’ skills; and ensuring access to better techniques.’ But Ghana’s future looks bright: Ghana signed a CAADP compact in 2009, and has since developed investment plans, stock taking documents and technical review reports to set out the pathway to practical implementation of its national strategies.
As an OECD study has shown, rapid and sustainable progress to reduce extreme poverty is next to impossible except where agricultural productivity increases and incomes increase for poor farmers. Through a stable economy, market liberalisation and improved infrastructure, all resulting from good governance, Ghana has been able to create a thriving agricultural sector for large- and small-scale farmers alike.