Getting to know the landscape of Ghana

10 fast facts on the sub-Saharan African country

A leader of West Africa, the low-lying country of Ghana is rich with natural resources that feed into a growing market-based economy. crosby_cj, Flickr
9 October 2019
9 October 2019

Learn how to join the Global Landscapes Forum Accra, 29–30 Octoberhere.

Ghana is soon to host two major global events focused on the restoration of degraded African landscapes. From 26–29 October, leaders of AFR100, a continental initiative led by countries to bring 100 million hectares of African land under restoration by 2030, will meet to cover their progress and projections. Following that, the Global Landscapes Forum Accra will expand on those conversations for two days, bringing in more voices from the private sector, science, youth, policy, civil society and the arts.

Ghana has committed to restoring 2 million hectares to AFR100 – but what are the landscapes therein? Ahead of this week of important dialogues, here’s run-down of the host country’s terrain past and present.

Cows under a baobab tree near Wambio near the northern border of Ghana. Axel Fassio, CIFOR
Cows under a baobab tree near Wambio near the northern border of Ghana. Axel Fassio, CIFOR

Ghana is located along the “Gold Coast” of West Africa, bordering Côte d’Ivoire to the west, Togo to the east, Burkina Faso to the north, and the Gulf of Guinea on its southern Atlantic coast. Ghana has an area of about 238,500 square kilometers – comparable to that of Romania or Laos – and a population of 30 million people. The first country in sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence from European colonial rule in 1957, Ghana means “warrior king” in the Soninke language.

In the hills of the Volta Region in southeast Ghana. jbdodone, Flickr
In the hills of the Volta Region in southeast Ghana. jbdodone, Flickr

Located just a few degrees north of the equator with a tropical climate, Ghana sits atop an ancient Precambrian craton – a stable part of Earth’s continental crust that is estimated to have formed about 2 billion to 300 million years ago. This rock is the source of Ghana’s rich mineral deposits, which account for more than 5 percent of its GDP.

Its topography is dominated by low-lying plains, and its south-central and southwestern regions contain a forested plateau region home to the Ashanti uplands and Kwahu Plateau, the highest inhabited area in Ghana. Moving north, the land gradually rises, with the country’s highest peak, Mount Afadja located at 880 meters, in the Akwapim-Togo ranges in the eastern Volta region of the country, bordering Togo.

Nearly 60 percent of Ghana's population is under the age of 25. Axel Fassio, CIFOR
Nearly 60 percent of Ghana’s population is under the age of 25. Axel Fassio, CIFOR

Although English is the lingua franca and sole official language, some 80 languages are spoken across Ghana, nine of which are government-sponsored: Akan, Dagaare, Dagbane, Dangbe, Ewe, Ga, Gonja, Kasem and Nzema. Of these Indigenous languages, Akan is the most widely spoken, with around 9 million speakers in Ghana.

Carvings on a village building near Mole National Park, a protected area of savannah and forest in northern Ghana. Crosby_cj, Flickr
Carvings on a village building near Mole National Park, a protected area of savannah and forest in northern Ghana. Crosby_cj, Flickr

Formed by the Volta River system and its three main tributaries – the Black Volta, White Volta and Red Volta – West Africa’s Volta Basin covers more than 60 percent of Ghana’s land area. It is known as “Ghana’s microcosm,” an area of astonishing beauty lined with rocky outcrops and lush hills and valleys of equatorial forest and wooded savannah. The health of the Basin is crucial to the country’s water freshwater supply.

The sun sets behind the Volta River near the Akosombo Dam. said_the_lorax, Flickr

Lake Volta is the world’s largest man-made reservoir, formed in the mid-1960s by the construction of the Akosombo Dam over its namesake river to produce hydroelectric power for Ghana and its aluminum industry. The lake is also a major fishing ground, a source of irrigation and a popular tourist destination. However, erratic rainfall patterns have spurred drought and seasonal water shortages in recent years, threatening the area with water insecurity.

The Wli waterfalls are the highest in West Africa. Stig Nygaard, Flickr
The Wli waterfalls are the highest in West Africa. Stig Nygaard, Flickr

Ghana is endowed with countless enchanting waterfalls, several of which have their own story. The Wli Falls, known locally as Agumatsa waterfalls, are the highest in West Africa, while Boti Falls in the eastern region are known as twins – one male and the other female – forming a rainbow when they unite.

A site of former gold mining in the Ayanfuri region of central Ghana, where foreign mining activities have led to local conflict over land use and rights. Isuru Senevi, Flickr
A site of former gold mining in the Ayanfuri region of central Ghana, where foreign mining activities have led to local conflict over land use and rights. Isuru Senevi, Flickr

Ghana is Africa’s largest producer of gold. Other top exports include gold, crude petroleum, cocoa, cocoa paste, coconuts, Brazil nuts and cashews. As a result of cocoa production, logging, agriculture, fuel wood extraction and gold mining, known locally as galamsey, Ghana has lost almost half of its forest cover since 2000. Nearly 100,000 people are employed in the informal small-scale forestry sector, which is responsible for 70 percent of timber production.

Shea butter is processed in part by hand in northern Ghana. Axel Fassio, CIFOR

Nearly half of the country’s population depends on agriculture for their incomes and livelihoods. Cocoa is Ghana’s foremost agricultural export, making the country the second-largest cocoa exporter in the world. Shea butter is quickly rising as a desired export as well, with global companies such as Lush Cosmetics sourcing the nut butter from the northern Ghana.

Other cash crops in forested regions include oil palm, coffee and rubber, with maize, plantain, cocoyam and cassava as the staple food crops. In the northern regions and middle belt, tobacco and cotton are the main cash crops, with sorghum, maize, millet, cowpeas, groundnuts and yam as the staple foods. Rice is a key staple in all regions.


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