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Geography, climate and population
Ghana is situated on the west coast of Africa with a total area of 238 540 km2. The country has a north-south extent of about 670 km and a maximum east-west extent of about 560 km. It shares borders with Côte d’Ivoire to the west, Burkina Faso to the north, and Togo to the east. To the south are the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean. The country is divided into 10 administrative regions.
The topography is predominantly undulating and of low relief with slopes of less than 1 percent. Despite the gentle slopes, about 70 percent of the country is subject to moderate to severe sheet and gully erosion. The highest elevation in Ghana, Mount Afadjato in the Akwapim-Togo Ranges, rises 880 metres above sea level. There are five distinct geographical regions:
- The low plains, stretching across the southern part of the country.
- The Ashanti Uplands, stretching from the Côte d’Ivoire border in the west to the elevated edge of the Volta Basin in the east.
- The Akwapim-Togo Ranges in the eastern part of the country consist of a generally rugged complex of folded strata, with many prominent heights composed of volcanic rock. The ranges begin west of Accra and continue in a northeasterly direction, finally crossing the border into Togo.
- The Volta Basin occupies the central part of Ghana and covers about 45 percent of the nation’s total area. The basin is characterized by poor soil, generally of Voltaian sandstone.
- The high plains in the northern and northwestern part of Ghana, outside the Volta Basin, consist of a dissected plateau. Soils in the high plains are more arable than those in the Volta Basin.
Ghana has a warm, humid climate. Mean annual rainfall of the country is estimated at 1 187 mm. Mean annual temperatures range from 26.1 °C near the coast to 28.9 °C in the extreme north. Annual potential open water evaporation has been estimated as ranging between 1 350 mm in the south to about 2 000 mm in the north. The actual amount of evaporation depends on a number of factors including water availability, vegetation cover and prevailing weather conditions among others.
There are six agro-ecological zones defined on the basis of climate, reflected by the natural vegetation and influenced by the soils (Table 1). Rainfall distribution is bimodal in the forest, transitional and coastal zones, giving rise to a major and a minor growing season. In the remaining two agro-ecological zones, the unimodal rainfall distribution gives rise to only one growing season. Only in some parts of the country is the climate favourable for non-irrigated agriculture. Rainfall exceeds potential evaporation during relatively short periods. Even in the southern forest zone where rainfall is at its highest, irrigation is essential for short season crops during the dry period. The unreliability of rainfall is a cause of concern. Complete crop failures can be expected in most northern areas in about one in every five years. This risk can rise to one in every three years during low rainfall periods.
The cultivable area is estimated to be 10 million ha, which is 42 percent of the total area of the country and this (the sum of arable land and permanent crops) was about 6.33 million ha in 2002 (Table 2).
The country’s population is about 21.4 million (2004), of which 54 percent is rural. The annual population growth rate is 1.7 percent. Population density is 90 inhabitants/km2 nationwide, with a variation from 26 inhabitants/km2 in the Northern Region to 896 inhabitants/km2 in the Greater Accra Region. In 2002, 79 percent of the total population had access to improved drinking water sources; this coverage was 93 percent in urban areas and 68 percent in rural areas.
Overall poverty levels, as defined by the Ghanaian poverty line of a consumption expenditure of 900 000 cedis (about US$100) per adult per year, decreased between 1991/92 and 1998/99 from 52 percent to 40 percent. Export crop farmers and wage employees in private employment enjoyed the greatest increases in their standard of living, while food crop farmers experienced the least improvement. Poverty was greatest within this last group, constituting 59 percent of the poor in Ghana. This has been caused, among other reasons, by the lack of access to markets, high cost of inputs and a low level of economic infrastructure. There are also significant differences in the spatial distribution of poverty. Poverty levels in 1998/99 were highest in the three northern savannah regions, the Upper East, Upper West and Northern Regions, with 88 percent, 84 percent and 69 percent respectively. In contrast, poverty levels were lowest in the Greater Accra and Ashanti Regions with 5 percent and 28 percent respectively.