Ghana Fishin’: Sustainable Aquaculture in Sub-Saharan Africa’s Fastest-Growing Economy

"Foreign direct investment is relatively low for an economy of Ghana's potential." -- World Bank, June 17, 2011

"Red-Red" is a traditional Ghanaian stew made of fish, black-eyed peas, tomatoes, koko (fried ripe plantain) and the two ingredients from which it gets its name: red pepper and red palm oil. The dish is popular among the "unbeanz" (a slang term used to describe the nation's unemployed), because it is cheap and easy to make. For those on a tight budget, fish is an optional ingredient.


Fish (both live-caught and aquaculture) represents between 60-70 percent of Ghanaians' animal protein intake, with tilapia representing more than 80 percent of aquaculture production and catfish accounting for the remaining 20 percent. But it is still an underproductive industry. While Ghana's fisheries are considered to be an important sector in economic development, contributing 3 percent to the the total GDP and 5 percent of the agriculture GDP, there are no official licensed aquaculture firms in the country, and the sector is composed mainly of unregistered and unregulated small-scale subsistence farmers. "Aquaculture has only recently been adopted as an assured way of meeting the deficit in Ghana's fish requirements," noted the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 2006. "Thus, there has been no appreciable increase in annual fish production over the years."

But within an economy that has been traditionally dominated by gold, cocoa and tourism, sustainable development in the aquaculture sector represents a significant opportunity for Ghana to help meet several of its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), such as developing a global partnership for development, ensuring environmental sustainability, reducing youth unemployment and halving poverty and hunger by 2015. Commercial fish farming is a recent development, and its sustainable and environmentally responsible growth will help Ghana become more self-sufficient and create much-needed jobs.


Perhaps the fact that the World Bank has recently projected that Ghana will be the fastest growing economy in Sub-Saharan Africa -- with 2011 real GDP forecasted to grow at 13.4 percent -- foreign investors have a new reason to set their sights on the Gold Coast. The official website of Ghana's president notes that Economy Watch has ranked Ghana as the fastest growing economy in the world in 2011.

A report jointly issued in October 2010 by the European Union and the Secretariat of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) outlining standards for responsible and sustainable aquaculture development in Ghana noted in particular that "there is an opportunity for investment in ice production units near production sites." According to the Encyclopedia of the Nations, "The only performance requirements are that a foreign investor must have at least $10,000 in capital for joint ventures, $50,000 for wholly foreign-owned ventures, and $300,000 for trading companies, and that the latter must employ at least 10 Ghanaians."


But while Ghana's remarkable growth is primarily powered by the recent commencement of oil exports following the discovery, in 2007, of offshore oil reserves totaling approximately 3 billion barrels, sustainable aquaculture promises to be a sector to watch, not least because people need to eat. Ghana's population is growing at the rate of 1.99 percent, more than double that of the United States at 0.97 percent, according to the United Nations.

Perhaps more telling is the World Bank's approval last month of a USD 53.8 million investment to implement Ghana's Fisheries and Aquaculture Project, which includes USD 15.2 million for good governance and sustainable management, USD 12.1 million for "increasing the contribution of the fish resources to the national economy," USD 8 million for aquaculture development and USD 5 million for small-scale aquaculture development, which "will support the entry and growth of new small-scale individual investors with profitable business plans into the aquaculture sector."


In Q2 2011, Ghana wrote down USD 552.3 million in foreign direct investment (FDI), a significant increase from USD 351.8 million in the previous quarter, with China managing the most new projects (23) and the Netherlands investing the highest amount (USD 128.3 million). All told, these investments generated 14,412 jobs.

With rapidly increasing FDI inflows, major aquaculture investment from the World Bank, new jobs and a fresh focus on corporate social responsibility and sustainable development to help achieve MDGs as well as socially responsible investing, the future of Ghana is looking as bright as its famed kente cloth. And as the number of "unbeanz" hopefully goes down, the amount of sustainably farmed fish in the Red-Red stew will likely go up.


Ibid., 2.
Ibid., 1.

image: Nzulezo (stiltvillage), Ghana (credit: image engine, Flickr Creative Commons)