Land ownership and transactions are among the largest obstacles to the development of Ghana’s agricultural sector. Smallholder farms of less than 3 ha continue to account for around 90% of agricultural producers, with traditional land ownership structures acting as an impediment to attempts to consolidate arable land into larger tracts that can be properly mechanised.
“In the past we did not have a workable framework, but as of 2014 we’ve had positive consultations with traditional authorities, which I think will yield good results for 2015,” said Richard Adjei, principal investment promotion officer at the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre, who suggests that the key is to find alternative sources of employment for those taken off traditional land.
According to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, 6.2m ha of Ghana’s 14m ha of agricultural land is currently uncultivated. However, a World Bank report in 2013 noted that surveys of ownership rights and land claims are poorly developed, with 80% of land under the control of local chiefs and 20% belonging to the state. While foreigners are not allowed to buy land outright, they can lease it for up to 50 years.
Ghana’s constitution grants local chiefs the power to manage much of the land through a series of customary tenure systems, and treats them as the main stakeholders regarding land ownership, distribution and dispute resolution.
Land acquisition can often be an arduous process, which has in turn hindered private investment. “Land acquisition remains a challenge. In Ghana foreigners can be leaseholders, but the land belongs to the chiefs and it is very hard to consolidate separate small plots of land into one,” Amit Agrawal, senior vice-president of West Africa for Olam, told OBG. “It is difficult, but it can be overcome,” he added. Dealing with leasing land in Ghana is a convoluted process made more challenging by limited land records.
In 2003 the World Bank launched the Land Administration Project to help expand the title registration system so that land ownership is properly documented, and improve record keeping and overall transparency regarding land administration. In February 2015 Ghana’s minister of lands and natural resources, Nii Osah Mills, announced that he would oversee the development of a Lands Bill focusing on ensuring the security of land titles and facilitating access to land for those wanting to harness the potential to support development.
Ghana is part of the G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition initiative, launched in 2012 by US President Barack Obama, which aims to lift 50m people out of poverty over 10 years by focusing on food security and nutrition. As part of the initiative, 10,000 ha of agricultural land in Ghana is supposed to be opened up for private investment by the end of 2015.
However, this plan has prompted a domestic backlash. In a press release in February 2015, Agriculture Sovereignty Ghana, a group comprising smallholder farmers, trade unions and faith-based organisations, referred to the initiative as “one of the subtle ways of continuing the pillaging and depletion of African resources in order to benefit mainly foreign multinational agribusiness”. It also highlighted concerns that multinational companies are using the land to produce biofuel, rather than growing crops that would improve food security in Ghana, resulting in an artificial food shortage in affected areas. Even so, these concerns are not expected to impede the establishment of more mechanised and large-scale farming operations over the long term. The government, for its part, has asserted that the country will need these new farms if it is to grow the sector more sustainably.
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