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close this bookSustaining the Future: Economic, Social, and Environmental Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNU, 1996, 365 pages)
close this folderPart 5: Environment and development in Ghana
close this folderThe environmental impact and sustainability of plantations in Sub-Saharan Africa: Ghana's experiences with oil-palm plantations
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentOverview of the plantation system in the Sub-Sahara
View the documentThe evolution of plantations in Ghana
View the documentThe positive impacts of the plantations
View the documentAdverse environmental impacts and sustainability
View the documentConclusion
View the documentReferences

The evolution of plantations in Ghana

Ghana is 238,000 km2, a predominantly agricultural country of some 15 million inhabitants located on the Gulf of Guinea in western SubSaharan Africa. There are four principal agro-ecological zones in Ghana, namely: the dry interior Guinea-Sudan savanna; derived savanna or forest savanna; humid forest; and the dry coastal savanna where the plantations reportedly started before spreading to the more favourable humid forest zone in the interior.

The Dutch were the first to introduce the plantation system in Ghana about the beginning of the eighteenth century. Dickson (1969) reports the establishment or attempted establishment of several Dutch plantations near the coast during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Other plantations included those established by German, British, and other European interests about the end of the nineteenth century and in the early decades of the twentieth century, particularly after the passing of the Oil Palm Ordinance of 1913, when "Numerous oil-palm plantations [including those at Butre, Sese, and Winneba] were made" (Dickson 1969: 148). The Ordinance empowered the government to grant a mill operator the exclusive right to extract oil, by mechanical means, from the pericarp of palm fruits produced within 16 km of the mill. But the plantation system failed to gain a significant hold, partly because of the internal political insecurity engendered by inter-tribal warfare and by rivalry among the European powers seeking territorial hegemony, and also because of the negative attitude towards the system by the British Crown, which, from about 1850 onwards, gained the upper hand in the European struggle to colonize Ghana (Dickson 1969; Howard 1978).

It appears that, despite pressure by external private commercial interests, plantations were not very much favoured by the dominant British colonial administration. This was partly because of the fear that, by dispossessing the owners of their land, the extensive land acquisitions necessary for the plantations would alienate the peasants, seriously disrupt their export production system, and precipitate local opposition of the kind provoked by the abortive Crown Lands Bill of 1894 and the Land Bill of 1897, which sought to vest in the British Crown all "waste" or unoccupied lands, forest lands, and minerals. Another reason was the conviction among British government advisers that the indigenous small-scale peasant farming system was more resilient economically than the exotic large plantations. Furthermore, the peasant system was considered to be a tried and inexpensive method of producing tropical export crops. The official ambivalence towards the plantation system had been reinforced by a decision much later against the system at a conference on the West African oil-palm industry in 1926 in Nigeria (Shepherd 1936; La-Anyane 1961, 1963; Johnson 1964; Usoro 1974; Udo 1982; Kotey 1990). Consequently, plantations did not make much impact on the environment and agricultural production during the colonial era in Ghana.

The inability of peasant production to keep pace with the growing demand for palm oil and other agricultural products arose from the rapidly expanding population, the government's import-substitution policy, and its desire for accelerated socio-economic improvements. After 1957, during the post-independence period, there was a policy change involving greater emphasis on the plantation system centred on the oil-palm and rubber, Hevea brasiliensis (Ghana Office of the Planning Commission 1964; Ghana, Republic of, 1987; ILO 1989; Ministry of Agriculture 1990). The policy change, up to the time of the 1966 military coup d'etat, favoured state-owned and state-operated plantations.

However, mainly because of capital constraints, political interference, poor planning, mismanagement, and the rigidity of the centralized state control system, these state-owned farms did not prove economically viable (Miracle and Seidman 1968). They succeeded only in worsening rural living conditions by dispossessing the peasants of their most fundamental natural resource, the land, with little or no compensation (Gyasi forthcoming), and by the deforestation and other forms of ecological and economic disturbance associated with the removal of natural vegetation to make room for monocultural plantations (Gyasi 1990). Subsequently, some of the state plantations were sold. Others were abandoned, sometimes after felling of the palms, a practice that invariably left behind derived savanna or even grass in place of the original forest cover, as in the case of Kwamoso, 60 km north-east of Accra. Attempts were made to reorganize the remaining plantations into viable economic units under decentralized state control.

On the whole, however, the new policy, especially after the 1981 coup d'etat and the subsequent liberalization of the economic system, has sought to promote plantations through private enterprise, foreignaided government ventures, and joint government-private projects. The resultant plantations include the three major ones established by the government-owned but foreign-assisted Ghana Oil Palm Development Co. (GOPDC) located around Kwae; the government/privately owned Twifo Oil Palm Plantations Ltd. (TOPP) located around Twifo Praso/Ntafrewaso; and the government/privately owed Benso Oil Palm Plantations Ltd. (BOPP) located around Benso/Adum Banso (fig. 18.1). They were to grow oil-palms for the purpose of producing oil from the fruit of the palm, "probably the heaviest producer of vegetable fats" (Van Royen 1954: 166). This agro-industrial crop, which has a wide variety of uses, was a leading foreign exchange earner for Ghana, mainly on the basis of small-scale peasant production in an oil-palm belt near the littoral, from about the mid-nineteenth century to the beginnings of the twentieth century (Gyasi 1992a).

The three major new palm plantations (GOPDC, TOPP, and BOPP), which have engaged my research attention since 1988, form the primary basis of the following discussion of the impact and sustainability of the plantation system in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Managed on modern corporate agro-business lines, the plantations have been developed on land compulsorily acquired from peasants by the government in the humid tropical environment of the interior, which favours the oil-palm. In addition to developing the acquired areas into palm plantations, the companies involved were to encourage palm fruit production among the peasants in the plantation hinterland through the nuclear or nucleus estate system to help sustain their huge palm-oil-processing mills located inside the plantations.