03.03.2021 Feature Article

Should Ghana Continue On Its Current Economic Trajectory

Time For Paradigm Shift In Ghana’s Economic Development
Should Ghana Continue On Its Current Economic Trajectory
03.03.2021 LISTEN

"The world does not owe us a living. We cannot live by the begging bowl." Lee Kuan Yew.

According to the World Bank figures in 2018, Ghana generated $2.2 billion from cocoa export, $3.52 billion from Gold export, about $1.0 billion from oil and gas, $3.8 billion from foreign remittances ($4.7 billion when we add those from unofficial sources). This means that remittances alone were more than cocoa, gold and oil and gas and constitute about 70% of all the other three sectors combined.

In 2018, Malaysia received $ 16.1 billion from palm oil export and expects to more than triple it by 2023 from its expanded 6.5 million hectares of palm plantations.

In 2018, it was estimated that Indonesia produced around 2.9 million tons of coconut. Indonesia is the world's top producer of coconuts. Indonesia’s coconut exports for this year until August have reached US$899.47 million. India and Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Philippines have also made billions of dollars from the coconut products export.

The global coconut oil market revenue amounted to $5.9 billion in 2018. This figure reflects the total revenues of producers and importers (excluding logistics costs, retail marketing costs, and retailers’ margins, which will be included in the final consumer price).

The countries with the highest volumes of coconut oil consumption in 2018 were the U.S. (507K tonnes), Indonesia (443K tonnes) and India (385K tonnes), with a combined 38% share of global consumption. The Philippines, Germany, the Netherlands, Viet Nam, China, Malaysia, Mexico and South Korea lagged somewhat behind, together accounting for a further 36%.

Vietnam in 2016 received about $6.7 billion from aquaculture products and seafood export, expecting to hit 9.0 billion by 2020. Other countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, etc. have also made billions of dollars from aquaculture and seafood products on the global market.

Did you know that in 2019 one barrel of crude oil costs on average $60.0 on world market while a barrel of palm oil cost about £1,600, a barrel of virgin coconut oil also cost about £1,600, a barrel of honey costs about £2,400? This means that, just a million barrels of virgin coconut oil could fetch about £1,600,000,000? Wow! That’s more than oil and gas revenue on an annual basis since we started oil and gas production about 10 years ago. Why can Ghana change its economic paradigm and turn to more of the non-traditional products as being done by the Asian Tigers, which are cashing in on these new cash cows- coconut, oil palm, honey, aquaculture and seafood products?

Did you also know that as at today, 1litre of crude oil costs $0.40 on average, while 1 litre of palm oil costs on average £8.0, 1 litre of virgin coconut oil costs £7.0, 1 kg of honey costs on average £15.0 or more depending on the source of the nectar used to produce it, 1kg of gari costs £3.0, 1kg of tapioca costs £4.0, 1kg of ripe plantain costs £3.0, 1kg of yellow yam costs £8.0, 1 kg of dried smoked fish costs £6.0, 1 kg of cashew nut costs £12.0 , 1kg of organic garden egg costs £4.0, 1kg of powdered chili pepper and cayenne pepper costs £8.0 and £20.0 respectively, etc. And I can go on and on and on.

Something might have gone wrong in our economic and development decisions for the past 63 years. Why can Ghana change its economic paradigms and turn to more of the non-traditional products as being done by the Asian Tigers and other Latin American countries, which are cashing in on these new cash cows- cassava, chili pepper, yam, plantain, mango, banana, etc.?

My multi-million dollar question is: Don’t our leaders trained in economics from London School of Economics, Harvard, Cambridge, Pennsylvania Exeter, etc., know this? If yes, why are they not formulating and implementing economic policies to promote these new sectors of non-traditional economic crops which rather hold key to rapid economic transformation and total change of the living standards of the citizens, even at the grassroots?

That is the greatest challenge of the 21st century for Ghana after 63 years of trial and error economic models based on traditional export whose value keeps fluctuating all these years to the detriment our Ghana economic agenda.

Folks, let's just not read the figures but match them up side by side with what Ghana did in 2018, which I believe will not be much different from those in 2019 (most official figures not yet out):

Gold: $3.52 bn

Cocoa: $2.2 bn

Oil and Gas: $1.0 bn

Tourism: $1.5 bn

Remittances: $3.8 bn

Total: $12.02 bn.

Seafoods export alone from Vietnam: $10.5 billion in 2019. Agrifoods export alone from Netherlands: $90.0 billion (This is a temperate climate country, receiving less than six months of sunshine).

The question: What can Ghana do with over 550 km of sea, over 23 major rivers and over an hundred other water bodies, all good and suitable for aquaculture of any species of fish, shrimps, crabs and any type of crustaceans and mollusks, and the almighty goldmine, the Volta Lake, formerly the largest manmade lake in the world but now, the second largest after the Three Gorges in China?

Ghana can also plant over 5,000,000 coconut trees and oil palm throughout the country, on the coast, from Aflao to Half Assini and other suitable areas in the country. There could be a Coconut and Oil Palm Development Board/Authority to champion this multi-billion dollar economic sector. Special farmers co-operatives should be formed in almost all communities to lead the farming projects. These two products could be the game changers in Ghana in the next 10 – 20 years.

Do you know what Ghana stands to gain if it puts its five plains to good agricultural use? The Accra Plains, the Afram Plains, the Winneba Plains, the Keta-Ho Plains and the Savanna High Plains? Do you still believe that Agriculture still holds the key to Ghana’s economic development, if and only if we know why and how? Ghana can turn all these agricultural lands into agricultural powerhouses for a formidable agriculture-led export sector in Ghana.

As a country we spent millions of dollars importing sugar, rice, tomato paste, cooking oil and frozen chicken, frozen fish, onion and fresh tomato, etc., all products we can sufficiently grow here but are unable to produce on very large scale and productively add value to for export.

In 2016 alone, Ghana spent about $ 1 billion on sugar, $500 million on rice, $555 million on vegetable products, $592 million on foodstuffs, $643 million on plastics and rubber, $544 on animal products and $516 million on textiles.

Our economic model is fashioned on exporting raw materials and importing largely finished or value-added products resulting in the country spending about a quarter of its GDP in 2016, a whopping 12.5 billion dollars on imports with a sizeable chunk of that amount spent on things we can produce here, especially agricultural products. Meanwhile Aveyime rice factory is left to rot, thanks to Prairie Rice of Texas USA. Despite that, the rice factory is still producing far below capacity. Pwalugu and Wenchi Tomato factories dead. Komenda sugar factory closed down, Jute factory dead, Ghana has to import cocoa sacks from India and other countries for cocoa export, Presidential Special Initiatives on cassava and textiles all dead. Even the private individual tilapia farms along the Volta lakes folded up business because of lack of government support to keep them incentivized to remain productive and produce enough to feed the nation. The newest programmes too cannot be seen working. Mentioned can be made of the Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ), Planting for Rural Development (PRD) policies. We are yet to see their impacts on the rural and national economies.

The last thing I would like to propose is the revamping of Ghana’s tourism sector to be apace with its peers in Africa and Asia. I think this is where we need turnaround change strategies in place, by using tourism as the leading sector to kick-start our economy. Before we embark on positioning ourselves on the market, we need a vision which should be articulated by a master-plan, a kind of ten to fifteen year plan, which feeds into something like Ghana Vision 2030 or 2035 (The 2013-2027 should be relooked at). In such a plan, emphasis should be laid on massive investment in public infrastructure such as first-class trunk roads, revamping of the derelict, dilapidated and vandalised railway system, and construction of airports and first class shopping malls in all the regional capitals. We also need to broaden our human capital investment in our youth by offering more vocational courses in tourism, hospitality, business and commerce, beauty care, catering, tour guide management, event management, local crafts, modern languages such as Chinese and Japanese, among others.

In fact, the development and the promotion of a vibrant tourism industry can be a game changer in our economy. It can rake in more revenues than all the traditional sectors put together, ie, gold, cocoa, timber, oil and gas and even remittances from abroad. For example, if we can bring in just five million tourists a year an each tourist spending a minimum of $ 4,000.00 for just two weeks, Ghana can make $ 20 billion in revenue. This is more than the about $ 12 billion Ghana made in total revenue in 2019. Wow!

Folks, are we really poor or it is rather what I call "Ideas Poverty" that has become Ghana's bane in the mist of plenty?

Bob Marley said it right that: "In the mist of plenty water, the fool is thirsty."

And as our forebears say: "Miele avorkpowo dome hetsi ama." To wit: “In the mist of bales of cloth, we are naked.”

Stephen Hawking once said, “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is an illusion of knowledge.”

I'm at my wit's end these days. I need a new education. Please, help me. Just thinking aloud!

By Joel Degue,

Executive Director,

Leoj Consult,

[email protected]


  3. Kwesi Atta Sakyi, Unleashing and Unearthing the Tourism Potential of Ghana for Economic Growth and Development, Feature Article of Wednesday, 3rd September 2014,

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