Poverty in Ghana has been reduced, thanks to the tremendous growth of the Ghanaian economy over the past years, but at a hidden cost: the natural resources that undergird this success are being increasingly and perhaps unsustainably, depleted. The increase in the price and production of raw materials such as cocoa, gold and oil have quadrupled the real GDP growth, and cut extreme poverty in Ghana to a Lower Middle-Income Country status, from its previous status as a Low Income Country. Nonetheless, such impressive growth must be balanced with environmental protection in order to prove enduring.
Ghana’s Precarious Dependency on Natural Resources
Residents of the Bia Biosphere Reserve in Ghana are extremely dependent on the forest for their livelihoods. As cocoa farmers, harvesters of wild honey, mushrooms and other non-timber forest products, the people living in the region cannot economically sustain themselves without such natural resources. And yet, environmental depletion has become a serious concern, seeing as local populations rely almost exclusively on the forest’s resources for income. Large corporations also contribute to this degradation: unmanaged solid waste and gold mines result in air, plastic and water pollution, contaminated sites diffuse hazardous chemicals, and general deforestation and overfishing severely strain the biosphere.
Beyond the sheer environmental toll, the economic costs of such overexploitation are immense. The World Bank Ghana Country Environmental Analysis (CEA) estimates that environmental degradation incurs an annual cost of $6.3 billion, equivalent to nearly 11% of Ghana’s 2017 GDP. Air pollution costs nearly $2 billion and causes approximately 16,000 deaths each year. The damage caused by water pollution equates to 3% of the GDP. Land degradation costs over $500 million while deforestation costs $400 million per year. In addition to the immediate economic tolls, the depletion of natural resources inhibits the potential for future growth.
Green Economy Initiatives
In response to the increasingly salient threat of the Ghanian economy’s overdependence on natural resources, local communities have begun working with UNESCO and the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) to put in place green economy initiatives. The project builds on the Green Economy Scoping Study, performed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI) between 2012 and 2013. The goal of such initiatives is to uncover income alternatives, as to reduce local populations’ reliance on natural resources for economic survival.
The project, launched in 2013, has thus far identified multiple viable alternatives to depleting natural resources, a few of which include mushroom farming, bee-keeping, snail rearing and palm oil production. According to UNESCO, there have been 235 direct beneficiaries, of which 91 are women, who received training and support as part of the green initiatives to transition to alternative livelihood options. In addition to the direct crafts, the residents also received education in marketing and investing, as to ensure the sustainability of their new businesses.
The green economy initiatives have had tremendous positive impacts on the socio-economic status of local communities, who have since been able to vary their sources of income and avoid environmental depletion. The project attests to the importance and viability of reconciling nature and economy for sustainable growth.
– Emily Xin