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Ghana’s farmers received a boost in April this year with the launch of the Planting for Export for Rural Development (PERD) programme. An extension of the highly successful Planting for Food and Jobs, PERD is aiming to broaden the country’s agricultural base and make deeper inroads for the government’s rural development agenda.

Ghana’s farmers received a boost in April this year with the launch of the Planting for Export for Rural Development (PERD) programme. An extension of the highly successful Planting for Food and Jobs, PERD is aiming to broaden the country’s agricultural base and make deeper inroads for the government’s rural development agenda.

Over a five-year period leading up to December 2024, the PERD project will steer a powerful, many-pronged, cross-departmental team to push Ghana out of dependence on cocoa and timber, historically the two largest crop exports and earners of foreign exchange.

It offers a model for regeneration of Ghanaian agriculture.

Though it has been Ghana’s treasure for the past century and was consistently the country’s single largest earner of foreign exchange in agriculture, cocoa has been flagging. As structural reforms and a partnership with Côte d’Ivoire which should give Ghana greater control over dealings with the international markets take effect, policymakers, researchers, local government and community activists are working through PERD to show farmers that there is life – and wealth ‒ beyond cocoa.

PERD’s plans for diversification rest on a strategic objective of supporting Ghanaian farmers to begin cultivating nine tree crops on a sounder basis. The plan harks back to a national tree crop policy launched in 2012. This attempted to set out a plan for agricultural diversification but was never put into serious effect.

But the recent emergence of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, and high interest among investors, have given the idea renewed momentum, and the launch of PERD has been widely welcomed.

Six prime crops

The nine target crops – cashews, citrus fruit, coconuts, coffee, cotton, mangoes, oil palm, rubber, shea ‒ are all familiar but have not usually been treated as cash crops for export from Ghana. The first phase of the programme focuses on six of these: cashews, coconuts, coffee, oil palm, rubber and shea.

The PERD programme is overseen by the Minister of Agriculture, Honourable Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto, who drives strategic decision-making.

The supervisors are the Deputy Minister in charge of Rural Economy and Agriculture at the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, Augustine Collins Ntim, and the Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in charge of perennials, George Oduro, both overseeing overall direction.

PERD’s national manager and technical advisor, Patrick Zeal, is responsible for design, planning, implementation, co-ordination, evaluation and reporting of all activities.

Coffee seedlings: Ghanaian farmers are taking to growing robusta

Target: $20 billion

Speaking recently at the launch of an agro-processing facility at Akyem Nkroso in the Eastern Region, Dr Afriyie Akoto said Ghana had focused on cocoa for far too long.

“The government is determined that this should no longer be the case: hence Planting for Export and Rural Development, which is focusing on six main cash crops.”

The hope now is to make each of the crops promoted under PERD as lucrative as Ghana’s old cash cow. “In the next five years, these crops will provide us with as much foreign exchange as cocoa is giving us today,” the Minister said.

“Instead of the two and a half billion dollars we are getting from cocoa, we will be getting close to $20bn for these other crops to boost our foreign earnings.”

Urban drift

Roughly 45 per cent of the Ghanaian population is involved in agriculture, which contributed just under 20 per cent of GDP in 2017. According to the Ghana Statistical Service, year-on-year analysis in the third quarter of 2017 showed a 10 per cent growth in agriculture, 16.6 per cent of this coming from crops, including cocoa.

Organisers anticipate that PERD will reduce unemployment, mostly among young Ghanaians, and create a minimum of 10,000 jobs. It is also expected that responsible and self-sustaining communities will emerge through the programme to accelerate rural community development and curb rural-urban drift.

The programme aims to reach a million farmers, from smallholders to commercial planters, and to support projects covering nearly 12,800 hectares. The potential impact on incomes and living standards for swaths of the rural population is vast.

The programme will give an unparalleled boost to Ghana’s rural economy, Honourable Collins Ntim says.

“These two programmes – Planting for Food and Jobs and Planting for Export and Rural Development – are really going to change the face of the rural economy in Ghana.

“This government is thinking not just in terms of physical infrastructure, but planning the whole machinery and structure that will ensure that we have a meaningful basis for take-off of Ghana’s new industrial economy. We must not only have the plant and machinery – as in, say, the case of the Komenda sugar factory ‒ we must have a secure supply of inputs, and inputs of the right quality.”

PERD is working closely with national crop research institutions and agricultural scientists to ensure the quality and adaptability of the seeds and seedlings it supplies through the local assemblies to farmers in the programme. Seeds, fertiliser and other inputs are heavily subsidised to ensure that farmers can afford them.

Energetic take-up

Susan Akomea, MCE for Asante Akim Central, has seen a mixed picture with implementation of PERD in her district. “We get support from central government in the form of vehicles, fertilisers and so on. The Canadian government has also given us help with extension services.

“I must say that, among young people here, take-up has been quite slow because this is a galamsey area. Many of the young people are more swayed by gold. There’s a fair bit of work to do to turn that around.

“Yet I’ve seen people from Accra, who understand and can see the potential in PERD, come here with business partners to take up the opportunity.

“Our main cash crops are cocoa and cassava,” Mrs Akomea said. “Obviously, neither of those comes under PERD but we have decided to promote oil palm and will be distributing 100,000 seedlings to local farmers this coming season. We’ve registered more than enough smallholders to take up the full complement of seedlings we will produce.”

Susan Akomea, municipal chief executive for Asante Akim Central, prepares to distribute oil palm seedlings to local farmers

Collins Ntim, who is also the MP for Offinso North, where take-up for the programme has been energetic, says: “This government recognises that, particularly in terms of job growth, we cannot rely on hydrocarbons, despite the excitement about the new oil industry. Therefore the emphasis on rural development.

“The base of our economy lies in agriculture, and this is what we must deepen if we are truly to grow. It’s from here that we will get our large numbers of jobs, that we will be able to create openings for our young people, that we will be able to generate most wealth.

“At the same time, we are creating a raw material base for the new industrial economy that we need for our country, as well as mitigating the effects of climate change and environmental degradation.”

The unmet demand across the ECOWAS subregion for oil palm (seedlings shown here) is 850,000 tonnes

Affirmative action

Honourable Ntim said, “Cocoa sets the precedent: as in cocoa, we work with the normal peasantry, people who are interested in farming. We are encouraging them, especially women and young people, to develop farm projects and related ventures.

“We provide them with on-farm support in the shape of good, certified seeds, as well as technical assistance and a highly subsidised package of inputs. We have even reserved some areas for the target groups. For example, grafting is largely reserved for women, because it has been shown that women are generally better at it.

“At the next stage we offer the farmers support with making their work proper businesses. So the many smallholders we work with are being encouraged to group to form co-operatives. The next stage will be to band them together in federations, which will give them more control over how they manage their affairs.

“The final stage is to assist the smallholders and outgrowers with standardisation and regulation to meet the demands of export markets.

“So far we have validated 212 districts in all to begin producing the selected tree crops. The districts are scattered across all 16 regions of Ghana and we aim to have a project in virtually every district, except where local conditions or environmental threats do not allow, as in some parts of Accra and Keta.

“We have organised and grouped the selected districts carefully so we will end up with zones whose soil quality and climate and social conditions suit the type of crop grown there.”

The shea zone, for obvious reasons of climate and expertise, will centre on the five Northern regions.


Under a highly decentralised structure, local assemblies have ownership of the scheme. They bear responsibility for raising financing through their local economic development share of the District Assemblies Common Fund, and have to meet targets for inputs. Every district has been aiming to raise a specified number of seedlings for onward distribution to support 5,000 local farmers, who will cultivate at least one hectare of one or more of the selected crops within the programme implementation period.

Honourable Ntim describes the excitement the challenge has created among district chief executives: “It has led to a sense of competition among the DCEs, with everyone wanting to do better than the district next door.”

The government leverages central funding at the same time to support the assemblies’ efforts, channelling resources to PERD through the District Assemblies Common Fund, One District, One Factory and the Nation Builders Corps scheme, inter alia. The German government-backed Outgrower and Value Chain Fund, a trust that promotes value-chain development, and the Canadian-funded Modernising Agriculture in Ghana project, which is working to reverse the decline in this sector, are among the foreign partners that play an important role.

Above all, private sector participation is expected to sustain PERD after the programme closes officially, particularly in the areas of input development and distribution and exports financing. Ghana EXIM Bank is providing support for many of these private interventions.

Overall agricultural growth rose from a record low of 0.8 per cent in 2011 to 3.1 per cent in 2016 and 8.4 per cent in 2017.

Ninety-eight of the districts approved will concentrate on growing cashews; 35 will specialise in coconuts, 30 in oil palm and 14 in shea. The world cashew market was worth US$9.9 million in 2018, expected to grow to roughly $12.7m by 2024. Ghana controls nearly 44 per cent of global cashew-in-shell exports. Clearly, despite the recent decline in prices for the crop, there is room for rich pickings.

Coconut plant nursery in Asante Akim Central

“The enthusiasm of district directors of agriculture, farmers and actors at local level leads us to believe that there is huge scope in PERD for reinvigorating rural development,” Honourable Ntim says.

The flexibility that the programme offers is another attraction: farmers can register to grow a tree crop such as coffee, but also subscribe to Planting for Food and Jobs, under which they can intercrop their coffee with staple foods for personal consumption or sale on local markets.

Planting for Export and Rural Development could not only transform lives in Ghana’s provinces: by offering a model of decentralisation, local fundraising and an enabled environment for private business, it could change the way we relate as citizens to our government.

Planting for Export and Rural Development Facts and Figures


Collaborators: Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development
Period: 2019 to 2023
Key targets: one million farmers in 10,000 communities
Regions covered: 16
Districts: 212

Objective: Restructure Ghana’s economy through export diversification towards accelerated rural development

Strategic pillars:
⦁ reliable on-farm support
⦁ strong business support
⦁ effective regulatory regimes

⦁ decentralised system towards community ownership
⦁ strong private-sector participation
⦁ institutional collaboration and support

⦁ cashew
⦁ coconut
⦁ coffee
⦁ oil palm
⦁ rubber
⦁ shea

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