Ghana: Eye on growth

Ghana: Eye on growth

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With one percent of its GDP allocated for science, technology and innovation, Ghana is taking slow but giant strides towards growth and development

Africa has come a long way in the last few years. some of the key indicators of the region’s rise are increased economic growth, reduced conflicts and civil unrest, substantial improvement in governance and enhanced political liberation. Moreover, most governments in Africa are realising that a strong technological base and the implementation of modern technologies are the key to socio-economic development of the region.

situated in western Africa, Ghana is a fitting example of the continent’s noteworthy ascent. Rated amongst the fastest growing economies in the world with an astonishing 14.4% growth in 2011, the country has an abundance of natural resources and boasts of one of the highest per capita GDP in the continent. Agriculture employs more than half of the 25 million population and accounts for nearly one-quarter of the GDP. since the discovery of an oilfield in 2007, oil exports have contributed significantly to the country’s economy. Increased exploration activities have led to further oil discoveries, which, along with the booming construction sector in the country, are contributing significantly to its GDP growth. Ghana’s growth prospects remain positive with large investments planned in infrastructure, extractive industries and commercial agriculture.

A distinctive feature of the country’s rapid development is its fast pace of urbanisation. Exploding population in urban areas has put enormous pressure on land as the rapidly expanding cities have caused a number of changes in land use. Geospatial technology is the key to tackling most of the challenges facing the country and the government is in full realisation of this fact. In line with the African union directive of the Lagos Declaration, the Government of Ghana has promised to allot 1% of the country’s GDP to science, technology and innovation in 2011. The National science Policy is also mandated to promote newer technologies.

Geospatial technology in Ghana Various agencies in Ghana, from land administration to natural resource management to agriculture, have begun to implement geospatial technology in their day-to-day functioning. The most heartening feature is that things are moving swiftly and the future seems full of possibilities.

Brent Jones, Global Marketing Manager, survey/Cadastre/AEC, Esri, is upbeat about the future prospects. “Things are moving very quickly and there is a rapid uptake of geospatial technology. The universities are implementing programmes in GIs, which is extremely vital for capacity building. The physical infrastructure in the country is growing fast to support the oil industry, which is driving additional GIs technology,” he says.

The Council for scientific and Industrial Research (CsIR) is the nodal body established to promote science, technology and innovation research as a national development tool. The agency manages the activities of 13 research institutes, including major productive sectors of the Ghanaian economy. CsIR plays an extremely vital role in geospatial activities that have facilitated the work of various sections of society including farmers, planners, entrepreneurs, policymakers and engineers. CsIR is involved in a number of projects like the GIs-enabled tourism information project. The project being undertaken along with the Institute for scientific and Technological Information, involves using GIs as a platform to record tourism information through databases that can serve as useful reference for the tourists. The objective of the project is to increase investment in the tourism sector.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the primary agency responsible for preserving and improving the country’s environment. The agency’s foremost job is to ensure that the country’s natural resources are well taken care of, so that the future generations inherit a healthier and cleaner world. EPA is making extensive use of GIs to assess the level of environmental degradation and find out newer ways of land reclamation. In 2000, CERsGIs (Center for Remote sensing and Geographic Information services) was setup by EPA as an agency that develops geospatial applications to support government agencies that want to use GIs as a tool for their activities.

Another significant user of the technology is the Forestry Commission of Ghana, which is tasked with research activities and monitoring of various tree species present in the country’s forests. The agency is actively using GIs to enhance its reforestation efforts.

Potential verticals
Like other developing economies across the globe, Ghana too is witnessing rapid growth in every sector. Although geospatial technology has been implemented by a number of agencies, its penetration is still at a preliminary stage compared to the humongous potential that it holds. While land management is rated by experts as the vertical with the most potential in terms of geospatial implementation, utilities, transportation and disaster management also hold a lot of promise.

“National mapping and cadastre benefit greatly from the use of geospatial technology. In fact, it is difficult for cadastral agencies to process the volume of data they have without GIs,” says Jones, who highlights transportation and natural resources management as other areas where GIs can have a great impact. “Western Africa supports a large agricultural economy that can also benefit greatly from geospatial technology. Mining and oil sectors also have been early adopters. so, there are plenty of areas that can benefit from the use of this technology, which translates into enormous opportunities,” he adds.

land administration
Properly defined, legal and secure property rights administered in a transparent land administration system with the right policy framework go a long way in adding to the socio-economic development of a country and alleviating poverty. More than 50% of the population in Ghana derives its livelihood from farming and related activities. It thus becomes imperative that the rights of these people are protected and their tenures secured, which in turn will encourage investment in land and ensure overall development of the country.

In order to make the land management agencies more responsive to the clients, and reduce the cost and time of doing business, the Government of Ghana, through the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, initiated the Ghana Land Administration Project. With a total investment of approximately $55 million, the project has resulted in the reduction of turnaround time for land title registration from over six months to less than two-and-half months.

The project has also resulted in the creation of essential infrastructure. “Various agencies in the country are using geospatial technology but they do not have the resources or the technical knowhow. Thus, we have initiated the Ghana Land Administration Project to bring in the required resources,” explains Dr Isaac Bonsu Karikari, National Project Coordinator, Ghana Land Administration Project, Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources. He adds that the required infrastructure has been set up with funding from the World Bank and the Canadian International Development Agency and the project is moving towards centralisation to create integrated land information systems to connect various land agencies and thus ensure better land management.

natural resource management:
Ghana is blessed with abundant natural resources. However, the need of the hour is to manage these resources effectively. Geospatial technology is being used extensively to study and manage the country’s water resources. A major application of GIs and other technologies has been to prepare water resources maps. Another project by CsIR-FORIG (Forestry Research Institute of Ghana) entails the use of satellite images to estimate forest cover changes in the western region of Ghana.

Anthony Mallen Ntiador, Business Development Manager, sambus Geospatial, is happy with the current status of technology usage but sees a lot of scope for improvement. “Ghana has made steady growth in the use of geospatial technology, but in terms of potential, it is still not enough. Natural resource is an area that holds a lot of growth potential, especially in terms of forestry.” Pointing out that Ghana’s forest area dwindled from 18 million hectares to 1.8 million hectares in 50 years, he says GIs has the potential to be a good tool to monitor the rate of deforestation.

Another area where state-of-the-art technology, geospatial in particular, is playing a key role in mining and oil prospecting and exploration. Further, the technology is also being used to identify harmful impacts in and around the mining and exploration areas. Experts like Ntiador believe a major reason for the extensive use of geospatial technology in oil and mining field is that a majority of companies involved in these areas are foreign based, who are well versed with the latest technologies.

utilities
The utilities sector in Ghana, including the electricity and water sectors, faces numerous challenges like intermittent supply, low water pressure and high losses. The lack of clean drinking water and proper sanitation systems is a major health concern and responsible for a number of disease outbreaks. Besides, the utility organisations are guilty of not running their revenue collecting mechanisms properly and thus running into substantial losses. Most utility lines are improperly documented, which results in long delays to fix an error.

The utilities sector in Ghana is yet realise the full potential of geospatial technology in their day-to-day running, but it remains a potential vertical which can make use of the technology to deliver better services to customers as well as cut own losses. Ntiador identifies electricity as a vertical with huge potential for use of geospatial technology. “Besides, telecom GIs is almost absent in the country. Ghana has six telecom companies and only two are using GIs actively,” he adds.

 

Challenges

lack of capacity and infrastructure
Like other developing countries, Ghana faces acute shortage of geospatial professionals. While educational institutes are doing their bit to churn out qualified engineers, the lack of professionals both in terms of quality and quantity is a major concern.

Ntiador says in most countries in the region, capacity for GIs is almost zero. “This calls for more rigorous training. Lack of adequate infrastructure is another critical issue. While Ghana is making progress, IT infrastructure in the region is very limited,” he adds.

Dr Karikari supports the view. “Capacity building is a challenge. People must know how to use the technology. While things are not too bad, but to ensure optimum utilisation, we have to make sure that more people get trained,” he says. Dr Karikari also cites the lack of right infrastructure for capacity development.

budget constraints
Owing to the low income levels in most African countries, there is serious funds shortage for buying costly equipment required to gather and process geospatial data. At times, even government organisations lack modern equipment. Besides, the limited availability of well-qualified geospatial professionals has given rise to plenty of quack surveyors who produce poor quality work.

“The lack of funds is often a constraint. Especially, the survey and mapping departments need to be upgraded, which requires a lot of funds,” says stephen Djaba, Licensed surveyor, Geo-Tech systems. “Lack of skilled people is another constraint. While we have people trained in the universities, we need more skill and hands-on training,” he adds.

“A major challenge we face is the unavailability of modern equipment. Besides, the cost of software licences is another major issue,” points out another senior official on the condition of anonymity. He adds that in terms of land registration and preparation of cadastre plans, the base maps are very old. “All of this has to do with lack of funding and that is a major area of concern.”

Way forward
Ghana has been a frontrunner among African nations when it comes to the use of geospatial technology. The country has been collecting data since the 1990s and a number of projects are capturing spatial information. Thus, the need of the hour is to create the framework and begin to harmonise and use these datasets, which will allow easier access to data so that people can use the base data, add value and deliver products for the decision makers to use. “We are gradually getting into an era where maps are coming back. Ghana has all the right ingredients to move forward,” says another government official.

While there are a number of challenges facing the growth of geospatial technology in Ghana, experts believe that things are moving in the right direction and with proper training and guidance, the country can take giant strides in the field and accelerate its growth. “The geospatial community in Ghana should look to get as much training as possible and stay abreast of things. Technology is changing very fast and is providing a lot of opportunities. In western Africa, geospatial is becoming an industry of its own, so the more you increase your personal capabilities, the better you will do and the more you will help drive geospatial technology,” says Esri’s Jones.

Creating awareness about the tremendous utility of this technology, especially amongst the decision makers is another area that needs immediate attention. Dr Karikari believes this will also lead to more funds and resources. “For example, the World Bank funds are given in tranches related to planned activities, and it is up to the decision makers to distribute those to various implementation agencies,” he points out.

A majority of the people in Africa struggle for even the basic amenities. Experts believe that for the technology to be really successful, it has to reach out to the lowest rung and help them tackle their day-to-day challenges. “Geospatial proponents have to provide a solution that reaches the lower strata of the society. security of tenure is extremely important in this region and geospatial technology should really reach down to solve this issue,” emphasises Kwame Tenadu, President, Licensed surveyors Association of Ghana (LIsAG).

Lastly, geospatial has to be made an essential part of the educational setup to ensure a bright future. “Africa can transform itself effectively if GIs is imbibed in the educational system at the basic level. If this is done, in no time Africa will begin to have the Zuckerbergs and the Bill Gates, when the technology is taken at that level,” signs off Ntiador.