Ghana ranks 135 out of 187 countries on the United Nations Development Program’s 2011 Human Development Index – a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education and standards of living for countries worldwide. Rural poverty remains widespread in the dry savannah region that covers roughly two thirds of Ghana’s northern territory. Unlike the south, where there are two growing seasons, the northern plains are drought-prone and present relatively few economic opportunities.
While Ghana’s overall poverty rate has declined, the three regions in the north have seen only marginal decreases. Poverty rates in the north are two to three times the national average, and chronic food insecurity remains a critical challenge there.
Small-scale farmers in Ghana’s poor rural areas have very limited access to the assets that would facilitate a shift from subsistence farming to modern, commercial agriculture. Major constraints to their livelihoods include a lack of infrastructure and equipment – such as facilities for storing and processing products – as well as poorly functioning markets and inadequate skills development, financial services and technical assistance. In addition, population pressure and short fallow periods lead to soil erosion, loss of fertility and land degradation, all of which pose a long-term threat to farmers’ livelihoods and incomes.
With few employment options available, many rural young men and some women leave their villages for urban centers. This migration leads to an aging and generally less dynamic population in rural areas. High rates of youth unemployment and social disparities also heighten the dangers of social tension.