Turning Oil into Food: Sustainable Development in Ghana

When Ghana discovered oil in 2007, it was hoped that the resource would help transform the country’s economy. Ghana was once known as the Gold Coast, so it’s quite familiar with the risk of the “resource curse” – when countries rich in oil, gas and minerals don’t see the full benefits of that wealth. Gold hasn’t translated into development; in fact, the industry caused years of human rights and environmental problems. With oil expected to bring $1 billion to the government each year for the next 20 years, Ghana hopes to better manage these revenues in order to reduce poverty and fuel sustainable development.

oxfam-logo-350pxWOne crucial task in managing this new oil wealth is reinvesting the revenues in sustainable development, such as agriculture, health and education – all areas that will help reduce poverty and promote inclusive growth. In Ghana, rates of poverty are particularly high amongst smallholder farmers, who typically own land the size of a football field or smaller and cultivate just a few crops. Therefore, investing in agriculture is vitally important to fighting poverty rates in the country. Often, these farmers’ voices aren’t represented in policy discussions that impact them so they don’t receive a great deal of government support, despite representing 60 percent of the Ghanaian population.

Last year, Ghana passed a law that would commit 15 percent of the government’s oil revenues to agriculture. Ninety-four percent of the government’s agriculture budget will be allocated towards initiatives that alleviate poverty for smallholder farmers. This is a huge victory and a model for how natural resource revenues can be invested in sustainable, pro-development ways. Ghanaians have high hopes for their oil wealth, and this investment in thousands of smallholder farmers will have a big impact on the country’s economy.

The law was passed with a lot of involvement from a coalition of civil society groups, farmers in rural areas, youth and the general public in the “Oil For Agriculture” campaign. Next week, some of the people who helped make the Oil For Agriculture campaign happen and are monitoring its implementation will be speaking on a panel at Seattle University, a discussion co-hosted by Oxfam America, Global Washington and Seattle University’s Poverty Education Center.

Is this program working? Are oil revenues reaching smallholder farmers? What are the lessons in managing oil revenues for other countries? The answers to these questions will impact Ghana, the region and other developing nations deciding whether and how to develop their natural resources.

Ghana is seen by many as a model for Africa, with economic growth and poverty levels falling over the past few decades. However, more than one quarter of Ghana’s population still lives in poverty, and the country must ensure accountability in managing its oil revenues. With programs like Oil For Agriculture aiming to fuel sustainable development, it is hopeful that Ghana will benefit from its oil wealth. Development groups and other resource-rich nations will be watching closely.

To learn more and register to attend the October 20, 6:00pm event co-hosted by Oxfam America, Global Washington and Seattle University, click here.