Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Basis for technological development (part 1) ... with particular reference to the food sector in Ghana

By Mrs J. Maud Kordylas
Consultant, Tropical Food Products, Cameroon

As developing nations faced the need for industrialisation and national development, they became aware that some forms of techniques and technologies were needed for socio-economic development.
Between 1965 and 1970, Ghana established various large scale food industries as her choice in the attempt to industrialize. There were combined industries for cocoa conversion and lime processing, aimed at the export market. Other industries established were bakery and confectionary, pig carcass processing, long range fishing fleet, oil milling (palm oil, coconut oil, palm kernel, groundnut), milk reconstitution, fruit and vegetable canning and bottling, sugar milling, flour milling (Ghana does not grow wheat), animal feed preparation, fish canning, slaughter and meat canning and rice milling plants, aimed at import substitution.

The initial investment value for these food industries ranged from 55.5 million cedis in 1966/67 to a potential investment of about 120 million cedis by 1970. The investment cost involved in the establishment included a high foreign exchange component, due to the fact that most of the machinery, equipment, building materials etc. etc. had to be imported. In addition to these costs, packaging and raw materials in most cases had also to be imported to support the industries.

There were high claims of generally high percentages of national crop and raw material availability which led to the ambitious aims with which these industries were established. Although a crop like mango covers two-thirds of Ghana, it has a high demand for fresh fruit consumption, and may involve haulage distances and transportation costs for between 100 to 300 miles to concentrate 20% of the national crops for processing. A factor which was a problem because of the high perishability of the fruit.

Were the plants established to operate at full capacity, for example, 360,000 tons of sugarcane, about 100% of the estimated sugarcane produced in the whole country at the time, would have been needed to feed the plant same haulage problems. Apart from cocoa for which only 25% or 100,000 tons of the cocoa beans produced at the time were needed for the plant, about 120% of the estimated national tomato production or 28,000 tons were needed to feed the tomato plant; 90% of the rice produced and about 50% of the palm fruit produced were also needed etc etc. It was, therefore, obvious even from the start, that there would be chronic short supply of raw materials to feed the established large scale food industries and that they would find it very difficult to operate effectively at full capacity.

Apart from the raw material problems, the inland market at the time was too small to even offer demand for the products produced, the production costs were too high, precluding any export possibilities at the time; the products were of sub- standard quality and there was a stiff competition of imported products in spite of duty barriers placed by the government in those days.

It was obvious, even from the start, that there would be a chronic short supply of raw materials to feed established large scale food industries and that they would find it very difficult to operate effectively at full capacity. There was a general lack of qualified competent staff to administer the established food industries and since most of the industries were wholly or dominantly government owned, the capital invested in the establishments and the use of the facilities were not liable to interest payment and this, thus, contributed to wasteful usage and the slowness of some of the industries in establishing satisfactory levels of operation.

There was a tendency for overstaffing due to the employment of poorly-qualified applicants under the influence of nepotism and tribalism. After commissioning the plants, none of them ever operated at a full capacity; most of them operated between 4.2% to 60% capacity, with an overall average productivity of about 35% of the full capacity.


It is now amply realized that the establishment of large scale food industries based on indiscriminate importation of foreign technologies for the food sector has not yielded the desired effect of industrializing the country with respect to the sector.

If anything, the experience has proved very costly to Ghana, because in most cases, the rate of return has been severely limited. Most of the technology imported was not adapted to the geographical, climatological and above all, socio-economic condition of the country.

In most cases, this led to a state of chronic economic dependence on the exporting country because of maintenance, spare parts etc. Most of the plants were made up of highly automated elements which eliminated a good percentage of the labour force required. There had been very little dissemination of the productive process and innovative techniques involved, since these have no basis within the socio-economic set up of the country.


What do we have that we can call our own? We have got traditional agriculture and traditional food processing techniques and technology. According to the Development Plan (1977) produced by Five-Year the Ministry of Economic Planning, in 1974, Agriculture contributed about 37.7% of the gross domestic product, and employed about 65% of the labour force of the nation. Its contribution to the foreign sector was about 62% and also produced about 60% of the industrial raw materials for the country's agro-based industries. The sector is dominated by small-scale farmers who constituted about 95% of the farming population. The holdings of these farmers scatter all over any given agricultural area and do not often exceed two hectares per farm family.


The staple foods produced in Ghana are classified under cereals, root crops and tubers, legumes, oil seeds and fish. These are produced through the traditional set up of agriculture and artisanal fishing. The bulk of the cereals produced are stored in traditional storage structures and are processed by small artisanal mills in the towns and villages. Cereal meal is produced from maize, sorghum (Guinea corn) and millet at the traditional level using artisanal mills.

Root crops and tubers produced in Ghana, mainly cassava is processed into various traditional products using traditional technology. Grain legumes are also processed traditionally. Oil is extracted using traditional technology from the major oil seeds produced under our traditional system. Crude oil produced traditionally is preferred by the population because of its comparatively low free fatty acid content, its freshness and particular taste.

Traditionally, fish is also processed by sun-drying, smoke-drying, salting and salt-drying. These traditional foods produced and processed by us are items we can call our own and which belong to us. We have developed the techniques and technologies involved in their production, preservation and processing. Whether we do it efficiently or not is another matter.


With respect to availability of relevant man-power, Ghana's technological know-how summed up to be in the form of three, four or five generations of blacksmiths, artisans and craftsmen with practical experience in forging and fabricating indigenous farming implements, tools, coal-pots, pans, simple processing equipment for food etc. These objects are made by them utilizing indigenous technology and materials available to them within the environment.

More recently, Ghana has acquired about two or three generations of machinists, mechanics, fitters, workshop operators, technicians, draughtsmen, etc, with practical know- how and capabilities to copy and fabricate intermediate level equipment, make spare-parts, service and maintain such machinery and equipment as made by them.

With the drive and push given to education through our educational policies in the 1960's, to help the nation acquire scientific and technological know-how, Ghana has now acquired a first generation degree and diploma holding engineers, most of them with paper qualification, plenty of theoretical know-how, but with little or no practical experience. They know a lot about sophisticated engineering systems based on technologies evolved elsewhere, but have little or no chance of utlizing their acquired knowledge, since the infrastructure, requisite trained intermediate personnel, appropriate workshops, and supporting services are not available within our environment.

The technologies found are available and are inherent within our environment, and the technologies and rudimentary technologies on which our indigenous processes are based, unfortunately are never made part of the course material taught at our schools and colleges, our graduates, therefore, have little or no knowledge about these. How can we expect them to add to or improve upon something they have no knowledge of?

Our national policy for industrialization, based on indiscriminate importation of techniques and technologies, developed elsewhere and cited above, also did not help to encourage any inclusion of our own rudimentary technologies into the course material taught. If anything, our policy tended to eliminate any importance being attached to our rudimentary existence.

It caused these things to be completely ignored, while encouragement and emphasis were laid on the training of man-power with requisite knowledge that qualified them to work in environments with sophisticated technological systems which we do not have. It is no wonder, therefore, that most of our trained manpower feel more comfortable or more at home working elsewhere, where appropriate infrastructure exists and systems taught to them are well established and functional.


Workshops such as those used by blacksmiths, craftsmen, wayside fitters and repairmen, containing rudimentary equipment are what we have and can call our own. These have existed for a long time in Our environment, serving the needs of the people, with respect to fabrication and maintenance of simple machinery, tools and equipment. More recently, through importation, we have acquired various levels of workshops with equivalent machinery to match.

Some of these workshops are set up as accredited workshops on their own, to perform certain functions. Others are set up attached to various factories and industries to service the individual industries. Corporations such as the P&T, Railways, Electricity, P.W.D., Water & Sewerage, also have their own workshops which cater for their individual needs. The universities, the scientific institutions and other public and private institutions also have workshops set up for various purposes.

It can be assumed, therefore, that with the existence of these workshops come also skills, capabilities and experiences that can be said to be available within our environment for technological development.

talking drums 1985-01-21 what hope for Africa's growing millions