Desertification in Ghana: A Problem with Many Faces

Desertification in Ghana has led to the loss of soil fertility, biodiversity, and vegetation cover, as well as the reduction of the water table, thus making the land unsuitable for agricultural and economic activities. Deliberate and conscious efforts can be made by the government, employing the services of experts who would develop strategies to combat these challenges.

Ghana, the culturally rich and economically developing nation of West Africa, is bedevilled by a consistent loss of its fertile land due to deterioration and desertification. Desertification is a process of land degradation that occurs mostly in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas. It is propelled by factors such as climate change, overgrazing, deforestation, unsustainable agricultural practises, and urbanisation. This process leads to the loss of soil fertility, biodiversity, and vegetation cover; it also greatly induces a reduction of the water table, making the land unsuitable for agricultural practises and other economic activities. Desertification in Ghana is greatly impacting its economy negatively, and subsistence farmers are bearing the brunt of this carnage as agriculture is their main source of livelihood.

The Challenges of Desertification in Ghana

Desertification in Ghana is becoming a major economic, social, and environmental problem, and this is primarily due to the country’s geographical location and the unsustainable use of its natural resources. Ghana is located in the West African Sahel region, which is characterised by an arid and semi-arid climate. This makes it particularly vulnerable to desertification and the negative impacts of climate change. The population pressure in Ghana is also contributing to its environmental challenges. According to the UN in 2019, the increase in Ghana’s population is putting more pressure on agricultural lands, and this has resulted in the use of agrochemicals and the clearing of forests and woodlands to cater for the growing population. Woodlands in northern Ghana have been significantly diminished due to this practise, which is continuing at an alarming rate. Overgrazing and wildfires also pose a significant threat.

Causes of desertification in Ghana

Desertification in Ghana is caused by various factors and is exacerbated by others. The major cause of desertification in Ghana is deforestation. This refers to the felling of trees for agricultural and economic purposes. Trees that contribute to vegetation cover and are resistant to desertification are cut down, thus exposing the soil to the elements. Ghana has lost a significant amount of its forest cover over the years, and this is largely due to the conversion of forest land for agricultural purposes, the logging of trees for timber, and mining. These activities require the clearing of the existing vegetation, which in this case is the natural forest. The resultant effect is the displacement of natural habitats for birds and other terrestrial species, the destruction of floral vegetation, and a disruption in the biodiversity of the region. Deforestation in Ghana is primarily for economic gain, and its impact on the environment is ignored. Urbanisation, which entails the spread and expansion of the human population, also sees the destruction of the existing vegetation of the forest in order to set up structures for human habitation. Deforestation has significantly contributed to Ghana’s desertification, and this is human-induced.

Another major cause of desertification in Ghana is overgrazing. Overgrazing refers to the excessive use of land for grazing animals. This can lead to soil degradation, loss of vegetation, and other negative environmental impacts. In Ghana, overgrazing is a major issue that has contributed to desertification and land degradation. The northern regions of the country have an extensive pastoralist community, which has traditionally relied on grazing as a means of livelihood. With an increase in population pressure and demand for livestock products, the traditional pastoralist practises of rotational grazing and mobility have been replaced with sedentary grazing and overstocking of animals, which has significantly led to the degradation of grazing lands and loss of vegetation cover. The consequences of overgrazing are severe. It causes soil erosion, degradation of water resources (i.e., the water table, rivers, and streams), and loss of biodiversity, impacting the environment negatively and contributing to climate change.

Climate change is also playing a significant role in desertification in Ghana. Ghana is highly vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change due to its overreliance on rain-fed agriculture and its limited capacity to mitigate and adapt. A change in climate patterns has also negatively affected not only the environment but also Ghana’s economy and society. One of the impacts of climate change that has contributed to Ghana’s desertification is rising temperatures. Ghana is experiencing an ever-increasing increase in temperatures due to climate change; this has led to reduced crop yields, which has particularly encouraged desert encroachment, increased evaporation, and a higher demand for water. The changing rainfall patterns are also affecting Ghana; this has led to increased droughts and floods, damaging crops and infrastructure. The undesirable consequences of these for subsistence farmers cannot be overemphasised. Another impact of climate change contributing to Ghana’s desertification is the loss of biodiversity. Many species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction due to the changing temperature and rainfall patterns. Many other species are losing their habitats on a daily basis, thus negatively impacting the food chain and resulting in the deaths of those that couldn’t survive. The health impact of climate change in Ghana cannot be ignored. Climate change is having consequential impacts on human health in Ghana, with an increase in heatstroke, malaria, and other diseases connected with rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns. The livestock of farmers is not spared either. According to the World Health Organisation in 2015, the impact of climate change in Ghana would subsequently intensify the existing challenges of poverty, food insecurity, and infectious and vector-borne diseases.

Unsustainable agricultural practises have also contributed to Ghana’s desertification challenges. Agriculture is a major contributor to Ghana’s economy; the sector accounts for approximately 20% of the country’s GDP in 2021, employing over half of the country’s population (Statista, 2022). However, unsustainable agricultural practises are having negative impacts on the environment and the livelihoods of farmers who rely on them. Some of these unsustainable agricultural practises include: Deforestation: forests in Ghana are being cleared for agricultural purposes, leaving the soil bare and leading to soil erosion and biodiversity loss. The impacts of climate change are also highly felt in such areas due to their exposure to the elements. Intensive farming practises such as monoculture, excessive use of agrochemicals such as pesticides and fertilisers, and sedentary overgrazing are leading to soil degradation, a reduction in soil fertility, and lower plant yields. The excessive use of agrochemicals such as fertilisers and pesticides in farming can make surrounding water toxic, thus causing water pollution that is affecting both human and animal health. Land degradation is a serious issue in Ghana, with over 20% of the country’s land affected by desertification and soil erosion. The Bawku area in northern Ghana is the most desert-prone region of the country (Yong, 2014).

Impacts of desertification in Ghana

The impacts of desertification in Ghana touch various aspects of the environmental, political, and socio-economic lives of its citizens. Some of these impacts are: Loss of fertile land and biodiversity Desertification leads to the degradation and depletion of soil, which in turn reduces its fertility and ability to support plant life. The resultant effect is the loss of biodiversity, as plants and animal species find it very difficult to thrive in the degraded environment. The loss of biodiversity can have several consequences, including reduced ecosystem services, decreased crop yields, and the loss of medicinal plants and other natural resources. It can also negatively impact the cultural and spiritual lives of the local communities, who have for centuries relied on the land and its resources for their livelihood and cultural practises.

Desertification in Ghana has also contributed to food insecurity because desert encroachment reduces the availability of arable land and water resources for agricultural production. It becomes increasingly difficult to grow crops and raise livestock, leading to a decline in food production and availability. This is followed closely by food shortages, higher food prices, and malnutrition. People who are mostly affected are vulnerable groups such as children, pregnant women, and the elderly.

Additionally, desertification can exacerbate existing food insecurity challenges such as inadequate infrastructure for food storage and transportation, poor market access, and low agricultural productivity. These make it difficult for farmers to sell their products and deny consumers access to affordable and nutritious food.

As the land becomes more arid, water resources become depleted, making water scarcer. This makes it difficult for people to access clean potable water, irrigation, and other domestic purposes. Subsistence farmers are hard hit as they are unable to water their crops. Desertification also affects the water table, reducing it and making less water available at the surface. Water scarcity due to desertification affects plant and animal life, and it can also lead to communal conflicts among humans as many people are forced to migrate in search of food, water, and other basic necessities of life. The pressure exerted by desertification, which causes people to migrate from rural to urban areas, also puts pressure on social amenities in these urban areas and can result in conflicts between groups of people.

Desertification has also had a significant negative economic impact on Ghana. This is glaringly clear in communities that solely rely on agriculture as their means of livelihood. Decline in agricultural practises, loss of biodiversity, incessant migration, and health hazards such as respiratory illnesses due to dust storms leading to increased healthcare costs have exacerbated poverty in Ghana. Peasant farmers, who were only primarily concerned with food and water, are now saddled with the responsibility of finding better arable land to carry out their agricultural activities, healthcare for the ailments caused by dust storms, and an unending search for water for irrigation. The impacts of desertification in Ghana are far-reaching and widespread.

Strategies to Combat Desertification in Ghana

Desertification in Ghana can be combated using several time-tested strategies. Subsistence farmers in Ghana can also be taught by experts how to implement some of these strategies to greatly reduce the negative impacts of desertification even on their own farms.

Some of the strategies that can be used to combat the impact of desertification in Ghana are:

  1. Afforestation and reforestation: afforestation refers to the conversion of land into forest. It is the planting of trees and other plants on bare or barren lands. Reforestation, on the other hand, refers to the replanting of trees and other plants in an area that was once a forest but has since been disturbed. In other words, it is the restoration of forests. Afforestation and reforestation can help to prevent soil erosion, improve soil quality, and increase water availability. The revegetation of lands can also help replenish the ground due to the percolation of rainfall water intensified by the presence of vegetation. To inculcate the values of planting and nurturing trees and their associated benefits amongst the youth, mitigate the adverse effects of climate change, enhance livelihoods, and beautify the environment, the Ghanaian government has launched several afforestation initiatives such as the Green Ghana Project, which aims to plant five million trees in a single day (Green Ghana, 2021). Though this is a step in the right direction, the Ghanaian government would do well to promote and implement policies that support sustainable land use and help communities adapt to the changing climate.
  2. Soil conservation practises: The implementation of soil conservation practises such as terracing, crop rotation, and the use of cover can help to tremendously improve soil quality and prevent soil erosion caused by agents of denudation such as winds on bare soil. Organic farming practises can also be used by farmers to improve soil fertility.
  3. Water management: Proper water management practises such as rainwater harvesting, water conservation, and irrigation can help in the prevention of soil erosion and assist in the improvement of soil quality. The recycling of waste water would also be beneficial. The Ghanaian government has launched several initiatives aimed at improving water management; an example is the Small Town Water Supply and Sanitation Project.
  4. Sustainable agricultural practises: To address food insecurity caused by desertification in Ghana, it is important to adopt sustainable land management practises that promote the conservation of soil and water resources, such as agroforestry, sustainable farming practises, pasture management, and irrigation techniques. This would help in the prevention of soil degradation and the improvement of land productivity. Additionally, improving infrastructure and market access can help farmers get their products to market and increase food availability for consumers.
  5. Curbing overgrazing: To address overgrazing in Ghana, there is a need for policy and management interventions that would promote sustainable grazing practices and land use. This could include the promotion of rotational grazing, the establishment of grazing reserves, and the implementation of policies that restrict grazing in sensitive or vulnerable areas. Additionally, promoting alternative livelihoods for pastoralists, such as agroforestry and beekeeping, can help reduce pressure on grazing lands and promote sustainable land use.
  6. Community involvement and education: Educating communities about the causes and effects of desertification and involving them in conservation efforts can help promote sustainable land use practises and prevent further degradation. The government and local communities can work together on developing and implementing these strategies to mitigate the adverse effects of desertification. Additionally, social safety net programmes that provide assistance to vulnerable populations can help ensure that everyone has access to adequate food and nutrition. The government and the people working together can preserve the environment for future generations.

Desertification in Ghana has led to the loss of soil fertility, biodiversity, and vegetation cover, as well as the reduction of the water table, thus making the land unsuitable for agricultural and economic activities. Deliberate and conscious efforts can be made by the government, employing the services of experts who would develop strategies to combat these challenges.

In conclusion, tackling desertification in Ghana requires a multi-faceted approach that involves a combination of afforestation and reforestation, soil conservation practises, water management, sustainable agricultural practises, curbing overgrazing, and community involvement and education. By implementing these solutions, Ghana can protect its natural resources and promote sustainable development.



Green Ghana (2021). Rejuvenate Our Land. Retrieved from

Osman F. Yong (2014). Combating Desertification in the Bawku West District of Ghana: Farmer’s Perception of Desertification and Project Intervention. Retrieved from

Statista (2022). Aaron O’Neill. Share of Economic Sectors in the GDP in Ghana 2021. Retrieved from

United Nations (2019). From the Field: Restoring life to Ghana’s Land. Retrieved from

World Health Organization (2015). Climate and Health Country Profile-2015, Ghana. PDF available at


Geographer, environmental enthusiast, and a social scientist. He is concerned with human activities and their impact on the environment. A lover of history, natural sciences and the arts. A graduate of Geography and Environmental Management from the University of Abuja, Nigeria.

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