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Examining the growth dimensions of SADA’s Master Plan

BY: Maxwell Adombila Akalaare

Ghana’s Northern Savanna Ecological Zone (NSEZ) is generally an agricultural-based economy with large tracks of arable land dotted across the zone.

With a population of over 5.8 million as of 2015, pressures of low agricultural productivity and a growing population has resulted in several challenges for the future growth and urban development of the ecological zone. 

This has led to conclusions that the key strategy for NSEZ to achieve a more sustainable growth is to have economic diversification.

As a result, the Savanna Accelerated Development Authority (SADA), which was established in 2010 to provide a framework for the comprehensive and long-term development of the zone, is using its medium-term development strategy, the SADA Master Plan, to make the diversification a reality.

The plan has three distinct areas, which the authority hopes will help achieve its agenda of transforming the zone from a place of abject poverty to a hub of opportunities for businesses and the citizenry in general.

Economic diversification

The plan admits that the economic diversification strategy for NSEZ entails enhancing the agricultural sector, along with expanding the services and manufacturing sectors to contribute to greater economic growth.

This is to help tap into the opportunities arising from the increasing demand of domestically produced consumer products. This should help open up opportunities for the expanding middle class in the country, while easing the challenges militating against the growing demand from exports market around the ECOWAS region.

Agriculture remains an important sector for the NSEZ, given its existing capabilities and high potential. However, it needs to be more diversified and productive through creating larger agricultural entities, encouraging private-sector participation, enhancing skills in agricultural management and developing supporting infrastructure in areas such as irrigation, water and yield management. 

The agricultural sector with agro-processing will add value to the agricultural products which ultimately become an integral part of the industrial sector.

Under the plan, manufacturing will be encouraged so that surplus agricultural labour can be actively employed. 

In the short-term, low and intermediate value-added manufacturing activities in areas such as textiles, light assembly and packaging can potentially absorb semi-skilled labour with basic training in production methods.

To develop a structured manufacturing sector in the medium-term, a staggered approach can be adopted by capitalising on agro-processing and then widening the industrial space to other products and production technology, alongside the development of technical training colleges to support the supply of skilled and semi-skilled workers in these areas.

The services sector further plays a key role in the economic diversification of NSEZ, which included logistics, finance and business, retail and tourism, healthcare, education and the public sector. 

Ultimately, the elements that constitute the three central point of the diversification has to be integrated as a coherent and efficient strategy for the transformation of NSEZ. It will also facilitate a seamless and self-augmenting policy design to catalyse economic growth.

Urban centres

The plan envisages that a network of regional urban centres inclusive of Tamale, Buipe, Bolgatanga, Wa, Kintampo and Dambai and other towns in NSEZ with connectivity to the southern Ghana be constructed to help facilitate the spread of industrial, service and agricultural activities. 

The connectivity is to ensure that the transformation of NSEZ will be able to enjoy the support from a robust southern economic area as mining, oil and gas, port-related logistics, finance and business and manufacturing activities continue to pick up.

In the plan, SADA is optimistic that a transformed NSEZ will be poised to support both domestic and regional markets with its agricultural products, light manufactures and services in logistics, finance and business. The use of digital technology to have a wider reach around the northern areas will connect NSEZ to Burkina Faso, Togo, Niger and Mali for exports of services. 

The upgrading of air facilities in Tamale will provide better connectivity to other regional centres in these countries while providing access to Accra and Takoradi from a central hub in the north.

Special economic zone

These notwithstanding, the SADA Master Plan explains that catalytic changes in the form of critical projects of each pillar will be required to accelerate and ensure an interconnected transformation for NSEZ. 

Particularly, the role of the main regional centres will have to be strengthened to catalyse the change by deepening the different economic sectors that are already in place or with growth potential.

A Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is proposed in Tamale and Buipe to help promote investment and trade in the spectrum of economic sectors that support the wider area of NSEZ. 

With each having a different focus, the twin SEZs will connect to the other centres and create a robust industrial and service network in the ecological zone. 

On the other hand, Bolgatanga will be revitalised as a Free Trade Zone (FTZ) to complement the SEZ, while Wa will have an industrial park that can facilitate development of the Upper West Region. 

Kintampo and Dambai will continue to be important agricultural centres, with logistics and other services overlaid on their traditional sectors. 

Capitalising on the gold-seams identified in both the Upper East and Upper West regions, along with the cultural and  natural assets that each region is endowed with, mining and tourism will be promoted through carefully planned programmes that prevent environmental degradation while injecting economic growth.

These key centres will also be advocated as cultural and natural tourism nodes, thus making NSEZ a more attractive investment, trade and commercial area.

Most important, the transformation of NSEZ will require sustained policy implementation for it to be realised. 

Certain critical policy considerations include an aggressive push for structural change with the participation of the private sector, improvement of education and skills training, better market access within ECOWAS, reduction of border trade impediments, as well as land tenure constraints. 

The transformation should also be supported by a well-crafted national investment plan, considering measures such as redesigned tax structure for investments, bilateral investment treaties and skills development policies to ease investment process and increase attractiveness, while building the necessary human capacity to support the growth.

The transformation of NSEZ is expected to occur within the context of Ghana’s economic trajectory, but being cognizant of the fact that transformation within NSEZ will have an impact on the dynamics of national economic growth.