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Last updated on 9 December 2004

News :

New Links are added in chapter 2.2, 2.8, 2.11 and 5.1.[09/12/04]

icon overview   Country Overview
icon land   Land resources
icon water   Water resources (AQUASTAT)
icon plant   Plant nutrient resources
icon hotspots   Hot spots
icon brightspots   Bright spots
icon challenges and view points   Challenges and viewpoints
icon references and links   References / Related internet links

1.   Country overview

1.1  Geography and administrative units

1.2  Socio-economic features

1.3  Climate

1. > top


1.1  Geography and administrative units


Geographical location

Ghana covers an area of 238 539 square kilometres including inland water bodies and lies on the south central coast of West Africa. Ghana shares a common border in the east, north and west with the Republics of Togo, Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire respectively. The country lies between latitudes 4 30’ to 11 N and longitudes 1 10’ E to 3 15’W.

Administrative units

Accra serves as the capital and also important as the business and industrial activities. The country is divided into ten administrative regions, each of which is overseen by a Regional Minister. The regions are subdivided into districts which as the basic unit of development. There are 110 such districts.

[Map 1.1.1: Outline Maps]

1.1 > 1.

1.2  Socio-economic features

1.2.1 Population
1.2.2 Economy
1.2.3 Major food crops and cash crops and trend in production
1.2.4 Food security
1.2.5 Cropping intensity
1.2.6 Crop diversification


1.2.1 Population

Ghana’s population doubled over the 24 year period, 1960 to 1984, from 6.7 million in 1960 to 12.3 million in 1984. In 1984 the density was 52 person per square kilometre. Projections indicate the population is likely to reach 20 million by the year 2000, 27 million by 2010, and 33.6 million by the year 2020.
The population can be described as a young: the 1984 census showed that 45 per cent of the population was under the age 15.

The population growth rate was 3.3 percent in 1980, 2.8 percent in 1995 and 2.7 percent in 1996. The major employment sectors in Ghana are agriculture, services and industry. About 40 per cent of total income for all Ghanaians is derived from agriculture.

The urban population in 1994 was 6.1 million out of a total population of 17 million, with a growth rate of 20 percent. The per capita income was 410 dollars in 1994.

1.2.2 Economy

The Role of Agriculture in the Country’s Economy

The structure of Ghana’s economy in 1994 showed that agriculture contributed 45 percent, services 38 percent, and industry 17 percent, compared to 1980, when agriculture accounted for 58 percent, services 30 percent and industry for 12 percent .

Agriculture is the most important activity in terms of spatial extent and employment. In 1995 it employed about 47 percent of the population economically active population or 2.95 million. The major agricultural land use systems being tree and arable cropping. Agricultural production is made up of traditional export crops (cocoa and oil palm), traditional non-export subsistence crops (yam, plantain) and recently non-traditional export crops (fruits, vegetables and root crops). The rearing of livestock on free range is common throughout the country, however the main concentrations are in the drier or grassland areas of the country.

The agricultural sector grew at 4.2 percent in 1995, compared to 2.9 percent in 1994, with increased outputs for all the major crops. The growth was partially due to the cocoa sector, which grew at 11 percent.

1.2.3 Major food crops and cash crops and trend in production

Some changing trends can be observed in agricultural land use systems in terms of technologies employed, crop emphasis, scale of operations and commercial orientation. Some of these trends are:

1.2.4 Food security

Food security is of concern as good performance in the agricultural sector sometimes does not reflect positively on nominal food prices in the domestic markets. For example in 1995, in spite of the good harvest there was substantial increase in domestic food prices. This is the result of inadequate facilities available in the country to store and to process the highly perishable food crops produced.

1.2.5 Cropping intensity

Cropping intensity is restricted by the rainfall factor as almost all crops are cultivated under rainfed conditions. About 8000 hectares of farmlands about 0.2 percent of cultivated lands in the country are irrigated and are used mainly to grow rice and vegetables. There are efforts to promote irrigation expansion. In 1994 a new project was launched to bring about 1073 hectares of new agricultural lands under irrigation and rehabilitate 1955 hectares of existing irrigate fields.

1.2.6 Crop diversification

There has been a positive response to programmes of crop diversification. There was generally an upward trend for crops such as pineapple, cotton seed, kola nuts, natural rubber, yam/cocoyam and palm kernel since 1990. Pineapples topped the non-traditional export commodities exported in terms of weight in the 15 764 in 1995.

1.2 > 1.

1.3  Climate



The mean annual temperature in Ghana never falls below 25 ° C, a consequence of the low latitude of Ghana and the absence of high-altitude areas. The diurnal temperature ranges from between 5 and 9°C on the coast to between 7 and 14° C in the north.

[Map 1.3.1: Annual temperature]

[Map 1.3.2: Map of thermal zones]


Rainfall in Ghana generally decreases from south to north. The wettest area is the extreme southwest where annual rainfall is over 2000mm. In the extreme north the annual rainfalls is less than 1100mm. The driest area is a strip east of Sekondi-Takoradi extending eastward up to 40 km inland, where rainfall is about 750mm.

[Map 1.3.3: Annual/ January/ June rainfall]

Growing periods

[Map 1.3.4: Main length of growing period]

1.3 > 1.

2.   Land resources

2.1  Physiography

2.2  Soils

2.3  Agroecological systems

2.4  Wetlands, mangroves and inland valley bottoms

2.5  Inundation Land Types

2.6  Natural hazards

2.7  Land cover

2.8  Land use

2.9  Land use change

2.10  Land Productivity

2.11  Environmental Impact of land uses

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2.1  Physiography


The land of Ghana is generally below 600 metres with very few places attaining elevations of 1000 metres. Less than 10 percent of the land is above 300 metres. The lowest areas occur in the middle Volta Basin and along the coast. There are six broad physiographic regions: the coastal plains, the Buem-Togo ranges, the forest disected plateau, the southern Voltaian plateau, the savanna high plains and the Gambaga escarpment.


The geology of Ghana comprise the following rock formations:

  • Basic instrusive and granitic Pre-Cambrian formations occuring in an outer rim around the center;
  • Pre-cambian Dahomeyan system of massive crystalline granulites, gneisses, schists and sedimentary remnants in the south-eastern plains;
  • The Pre-Cambian Birrimian system of argillaceous sediments, volcanics and calcareous materials which are metamorphosed and folded, granitised or intruded by granites;
  • The restructured Tarkwaan sandstones, phyllite and conglomerates.
  • The Buem formatian of shales, sandstones, volcanics, limestone, tillite and grit;
  • The Palaeozoic Voltaian formatian of shales, mudstones, sandstones, conglomerates, tillite and limestone;
  • The Devonian Sekondian and Accraan marine sandstones, and shales in small areas along he coast;
  • The Cretaceous-Eocene sands, clays and limestones at the eastern and western extremities of the coast;
  • The Upper Tertiary red, limonitic sandy pebbly clay overlying the lower Tertiary material near the coast;
  • The recent and unconsolidated material occurring along the coast;
  • Drift and ironpan cappings dispersed widely in all environments.

2.1 > 2.

2.2  Soils

Most soils in Ghana are developed on thoroughly weathered parent materials. They are old and have been leached over a long period of time. The major soil of Ghana include:

Other major soils of Ghana comprise the intergrades of the above soil and their lower topographic associates.

[Map 2.2.1: Soil map of Ghana]

[Table 2.2.1: Soil units]

[Link 2.2.1: Directory of Soil Institutions and Experts in Africa]

[Link 2.2.2: Digital Soil Geographic Databases - ITC][NEW]

[Link 2.2.3: Ghana Soils Map and Database - epa Ghana][NEW]

[Link 2.2.4: Problem Soils Of Sub-Saharan Africa - epa Ghana][NEW]

[Link 2.2.5: The University of Cape Coast][NEW]

2.2 > 2.

2.3  Agroecological systems

The country can be distinguished into four well-defined agro-ecological zones: coastal savanna, forest, forest-savanna transition and guinea savanna.

The coastal savanna zone is low-lying and covers about 16 000 km2 or about seven percent of the total area of Ghana. Rainfall ranges from 600 to 1150mm per annum, with the lowest rainfall in the country experienced in the eastern part of the zone. The vegetation in this zone is mainly grass and scrub with soils rather poor on the whole. The most useful soils for agriculture, are the friable savanna-ochrosols. Staples such as maize, cassava and vegetables are widely produced in this zone which also supports livestock, including cattle. The southern part of the zone is home to a thriving shallot-growing industry.

The forest zone covers five regions of the country and extends over a total of 84 000 km2 or approximately 36 percent of the country. Forest reserves cover about 32 000 km2, the rest taken up by farmland and land undergoing rejuvenation under the bush-fallow agriculture. The zone enjoys the highest rainfall in the country with annual rainfall ranging from 1150 to over 2000 mm. The soils are not inherently very fertile and are generally not suitable for continuous cultivation under mechanization. The zone supports the cocoa crop and also extensively planted to starchy staples, notably cassava, plaintain and cocoyam.

The forest-savanna transitional zone cover regions north of the forest zone. Most parts of the zone are between 120 and 275m above sea level and rainfall average 1450 mm per year. The forest vegetation has given way to derived savanna. The soils are fairly fertile and support a wide variety of crops. Maize, yam and tobacco are important crops with staples such as cassava and to a lesser extent plantains are widely cultivated. Large-scale commercial farming is widespread in the zone, and has a high potential for improved agriculture.

The guinea savanna zone covers about 152 000km2 or approximately 57 percent of Ghana. The zone has only one rainy season, which start in late April or early May, reaches a peak in late August or early September and tails off in October. This followed by a long dry period in which no crops, including pasture, grow except under irrigation. The soils are generally poor. The better soils are found in the floodplains and along river banks. Rice is by far the most important cash crop in the zone and is produced in the valley bottoms. Cotton, another important cash crop, is more important to small-scale farmers. Millet, sorghum and yam are principal food crops in the zone, but maize, groundnuts and vegetables are widely produced. Livestock production is an important activity in the zone with over 70 per cent of the cattle, sheep and goats of the country found here.

[Table 2.3.1: Land suitability]

[Map 2.3.1: Land suitability map of Cassava]

2.3 > 2.

2.4  Wetlands, mangroves and inland valley bottoms


2.4 > 2.

2.5  Inundation Land Types


2.5 > 2.

2.6  Natural hazards

In Ghana, natural hazards causing damage to food crops are floods, line squalls, drought, soil erosion and bush fires. Information on the impacts of these hazards on crops is limited. Of these hazards the most widespread ones are drought, soil erosion and bushfires. Droughts of varying duration have affected Ghana in the past. The most recent occurrences are those of 1970, 1975, 1977 and 1983/4. The northern savanna areas are the most at risk.

The impact of soil erosion is not dramatic but widespread in all areas of the country with the increasing rate of deforestation.

Bush fires occur annually in the dry areas of the country, and are due more to human and cultural factors than to natural factors. The impact is widespread and severe during drought years. Line squalls occur during the start of the rains between March and May each year. Floods are localised and limited to low-lying areas during wet periods.

2.6 > 2.

2.7  Land cover

The term land cover is commonly used in association with the term land use. The two terms are sometimes used as if they are synonymous but they are not. Land cover designates the visible evidence of land use including both vegetative and non-vegetative features. Land cover can therefore be defined as the vegetational and artificial construction covering the land surface. Land use on the other is commonly defined as the use to which land is being put.

In Ghana, the current land cover/land use information has been obtained using Landsat Thematic Mapper(TM) satellite data covering the period January 1989 and January 1991. The interpreted data was field validated in October, 1997. The information is classified at three levels of detail, with level 1 being the broad generalised categories and level 11 and 111 being detailed levels of level 1 categories. The broad level 1 categories are agricultural land, forest, savanna, shrub thicket, built-up area, bare land, water body, wetland and unclassified.

The statistics indicated the land cover situation at level 1 as follows:

Level 1


000 hectares



Agricultural Land












Shrub Thicket




Built-up Area




Bare Land




Water Body















2.7 > 2.

2.8  Land use

Land Resources Management

[Link 2.8.1: Land Resources Management - The World Bank Group][NEW]

[Link 2.8.2: Rice production and development in Ghana - AGP/FAO][NEW]

[Link 2.8.3: Collective learning: lessons from Ghana - International Tropical Timber Organization ][NEW]


2.8 > 2.

2.9  Land use change

2.9 > 2.

2.10  Land Productivity

2.10 > 2.

2.11  Environmental Impact of land uses


[Link 2.11.2: Best Practices of Environmental Information Systems in Ghana][NEW]

2.11 > 2.

3.   Water Resources (AQUASTAT)

3.1  Hydrography

3.2  Irrigation and drainage

3. > top

3.1  Hydrography

Ghana is fairly well endowed with water resources, but there is a high variability in the amount of available water within the year and over several years. About 70 percent of the total land area of Ghana is drained by the Volta river system, which flow directly into the sea. The Volta Lake covers approximately 8 482 square kilometers while other areas, seasonally flooded, total 1 684 kilometers.

The areas outside the Volta drainage basin are the southwest and the southern coastal part of the country, which are drained by a number of rivers and streams flowing directly into the sea. These cover 22 percent and 8 percent respectively of the total area of Ghana. These rivers are utilised for drinking water, fishing, agricultural and industrial purposes.

The Volta river basin is shared with Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Mali, Togo and Benin, while the Bia and Tano basins are shared with Cote d’ Ivoire.

Ghana has built dams on the Volta at Akosombo and Kpong to generate hydro-electric power. The power is share with all the riparian countries except Burkina Faso and Mali. There is presently no mechanism for cooperation to jointly develop the Volta. Ghana has recently made a call for a joint commission to manage the basin for sustainable and equitable development.

The total annual runoff for the country is 54.4 billion m3 of which 38.3 billion m3 is accounted by the Volta River. The annual runoff from Ghana alone is 39.4 billion m3, which is more than two thirds of the total annual runoff.

The Volta, the south-western and coastal systems contribute 65, 29 and 6 percent respectively of the actual runoff from Ghana.

The water bodies in Ghana experience a high level of pollution, particularly where they are located near human settlements, industrial (including mining) estates and agricultural activities.

Water withdrawal

Water use by sector and trends (trends in agricultural water withdrawal - irrigation and livestock watering - domestic water withdrawal and industrial water withdrawal, other uses, and future competition between sectors).

Wastewater, treatment, reuse (agriculture)

Present installed capacity (supply) from surface and groundwater of 108 million m3 is more than adequate for the projected demand of 63.3 million m3 in the Volta River system.

In the southwestern and coastal basin system demand exceeds the supply by 34.8 million m3 and 94.6 million m3 respectively. Overall for the whole country by the year 2000 an additional supply of 85.4 million m3 must be provided. There is more than enough surface water nationally to meet the estimated urban and industrial demand of 321 million m3 by the year 2000.

For irrigation water supplies, it is expected that by the year 2000 22 000 hectares are to be cultivated, which will increase to 136 000 hectares by 2020.



[Link 3.1.1: AQUASTAT Country profile of Ghana]

3.1 > 3.

3.2  Irrigation and drainage

Irrigation potential

Ghana has a potential irrigable area of 346 000 hectares. Of this potential only about 10 000 ha have been developed since formal irrigation started in the early 1960s. The slow pace of development is due to a number of factors. The main ones are the high cost of providing irrigation infrastructure, lack of indigenous irrigation culture, high cost of inputs, lack of farmer participation, lack of credit and assured markets for produce, and lack of secure land tenure.

There is a new policy to accelerate irrigation development to support agricultural production. Elements of the policy include:

Institutional environment

A number of reforms have been introduced to move the country towards integrated management of water resources. These have been dictated by the Economic Recovery Programme, decentralization of public administration, the national development policy framework and environmental protection:

3.2 > 3.

4.   Plant nutrient resources

4.1  Plant nutrient use and nutrient balance

4.2  Fertilizer production and costs

4. > top

4.1  Plant nutrient use and nutrient balance

The application of fertilizers to soils throughout Ghana is very low. Fertilizer use has been on the decline instead of increasing as the cropped area expands. This situation is due to the drastic reduction of fertilizer imports, exacerbated by the removal of subsidies, so that farmers found the price prohibitive. Fertilizer use declined from 21.9 kg of fertilizer material per hectare arable land in 1978 to 7.3 kg/ha in 1993. The increase in agricultural production has been due to area expansion rather than to intensification.

In 1978 the area cultivated was 1.8million hectares which increased to 4.3 million hectares in 1990 (PPMED,1991)
Fertilizer imports and sales were privatised in 1988. Information on sales, inventories and warehouse conditions isincomplete and poorly recorded. Sixteen different fertilizer products have been brought into the country at different times and in varying quantities for various purposes.

As yet there is no information on environmental effects of fertilizer use on water and biodiversity, though aquatic weed growth on some water bodies, eg. dams can be attributed to use of mineral fertilizers.

4.1 > 4.

4.2  Fertilizer production and costs

4.2 > 4.

5.   Hot spots

5.0  Overview: constraints to sustainable agriculture

5.1  Land-related constraints

5.2  Water-related constraints

5.3  Plant nutrition-related constraints

5.4  other constraints

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5.0  Overview: constraints to sustainable agriculture

5.0 > 5.

5.1  Land-related constraints

Soil degradation is widespread in Ghana to the extent that areas that are not degraded at present are being threatened. Soil erosion was noticed in Ghana nearly six decades ago and over the past three decades, the phenomenon has become an important form of land degradation in Ghana. Soil erosion occurs in the form of:

Thus some 70 percent of the country is subject to moderate to severe sheet or gully erosion and about 40 percent of this land is in the savanna areas.

Declining soil fertility is now a serious constraint to agricultural production. Ghanaian soils are developed on thoroughly weathered parent materials and have been leached for a long time. A large part of the original nutrients from the parent rock has been lost. As a result of population increase, pressure on land has reduced the 8-15 years natural fallow period that is required to regenerate soil fertility after 1-3 years cropping to only 2-3 years.

By 1996 over 30 percent of Ghana’s cultivable land was in use for agriculture, compared with 22 percent in 1987.
The most widespread system of agricultural land use is the traditional bush fallow system of cultivation, which involves slashing and burning of forest and grassland and rotation of the cultivated plots over a number of years. The system is sustainable under conditions of low population density and abundant land.

Associated with the increase in population the demand for subsistence agricultural cultivation has increased along with the demand for cash crops and urbanization and infrastructural development. This has resulted in intensification of the bush fallow system in terms of frequency of cultivation.

Land tenure vary in different parts of Ghana but most land is communally and owned vested in a head on behalf of the land owning group. Several factors affect the proper use of land and the assurance of maintenance and promotion of conversational use. The common problems of limited commitment to land improvement and conservation associated with communal ownership militate against sustainable use.

Competing use of the same piece of land is also a hot spot in land management in Ghana. A current example is the loss of agricultural land to surface mining, creating social problems.

With the frequency of droughts, water use is critical to agricultural production. This has led to the cultivation of watersheds, river and stream banks and streambeds and the drying up and siltation of rivers and streams.

Technologies introduced in agriculture including the use of machinery for land preparation and harvesting as well as the use of chemicals for soil improvement or for control of weeds and pests pose a threat to biodiversity.

[Table 5.1.1: Socio-economic factors which influence degradation]

Land Degradation

[Link 5.1.1: Management of Degraded Soils in Southern and East Africa (MADS-SEA-Network) -AGL/FAO][NEW]

[Link 5.1.2: Soil Degradation: A Threat to Developing-Country Food Security by 2020][NEW]

[Link 5.1.3: Land Degradation in the Developing World Issues and Policy Options for 2020 - International Food Policy Research Institute][NEW]

[Link 5.1.4: Land Resource Stresses and Desertification in Africa - Natural Resources Conservation Service /US][NEW]

Land Policy and land right issues


[Link 5.1.6: Land Settlement and Cooperatives -SDA/FAO][NEW]

[Link 5.1.7: Rural Land Tenure and Sustainable Development in the Sahel and West Africa, Regional Summary Report - Oxfam][NEW]

[Link 5.1.8: Falling Into Place: Ghana Country Study - International Institute for Environment and Development ][NEW]

[Link 5.1.9: Developing a Geographic Information System for Land Management in Ghana][NEW]


[Link 5.1.11: Rethinking Natural Resource Degradation In Semi-Arid Sub-Saharan Africa: Case Study – Dunglaagberuk, East Mamprusi District, Northern Region of Ghana][NEW]

5.1 > 5.

5.2  Water-related constraints

5.2 > 5.

5.3  Plant Nutrition-related constraints

5.3 > 5.

5.4  Other constraints

5.4 > 5.

6.   Bright spots

6.0  Overview: society's response to ameliorate the situation

6.1  Land-related response indicators

6.2  Water-related response indicators

6.3  Plant nutrition-related response indicators

6.4  Other response indicators

6. > top

6.0  Overview: society's response to ameliorate the situation

Example and Perspectives on sustainable systems

A number of measures have been initiated or adopted which should help arrest and reverse the negative impacts in land management. These include the following :

6.0 > 6.

6.1  Land-related response indicators

6.1 > 6.

6.2  Water-related response indicators

6.2 > 6.

6.3  Plant Nutrition-related response indicators

6.3 > 6.

6.4  Other response indicators

6.4 > 6.

7.   Challenges and viewpoints

The main challenge for Ghana is reducing population growth in the face of increasing demands on the land from different competing uses, including agriculture, and intensifying cultivation without causing land degradation. Another challenge is maintaining the momentum and ensuring the sustainability of conservational measures that are being introduced.

7. > top

8.   References and related internet links

8.1  References

8.2  Related internet links

8. > top

8.1  References

ISSER 1996. The State of the Ghanaian Economy in 1995

Bennah, G, Agyepong , G. T, Allotey J. A. 1990 Land Degradation in Ghana. Commonwealth Secretariat and University of Ghana

Ofori, F, and Safo, E. Y. Eds 1996 Proceedings of the National Workshop on Soil Fertility Management Action Plan for Ghana. Cape Coast 2-5 July 1996

MLNR 1979 Land Use Planing Committee Report.

Agyepong, G. T. Gordon, G Francois, J. Tuffor, K. Allotey J. A. 1994 Land use and Biodiversity Draft Report prepared for the Ministry Environment, Science and Technology, December 1994.

Ministry of Works and Housing 1998. Ghana’s Water Resources Management Challenges and Opportunities. Water Resources Management(WARM) Study.

8.1 > 8.

8.2  Related internet links

Country in general

Government website of Ghana

- www.epa.gov.gh


World Soil Resources Map, FAO

International Institute for Environment and Development : Ghana - Forestry and Land use

University for Development Studies, Tamale, Ghana

Rethinking Natural Resource Degradation in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Case of Semi-arid Ghana

Images of Soil and Water Conservation in Northern Ghana

International Workshop on Conservation of Soil and Water in Sub-saharan Africa

Best Practices of Environmental Information Systems in Ghana
- easd.org.za

8.2> 8.


[15/03/03] on-line
[29/07/04] add link to Directory of Soil Institutions and Experts in Africa on 2.2.1
[09/12/04] New Links are added in chapter 2.2, 2.8, 2.11 and 5.1.

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