The Power and Popularity of Ghana's Exotic Exports

Shea butter
Shea butter | © Daveynin / Flickr
Kwame Aidoo

Ghana is the 64th largest export economy in the world – with shea butter, coffee and cocoa among its successes, the country’s top products are renowned around the globe. So what makes them so sought after? Here’s everything you need to know.


The pendulum of Ghana‘s fortunes has swung dramatically – in a matter of just under ten years, the country went from an all-time low of USD$565.06 million in the first quarter of 2003, to hitting a high of USD$4,118.30 million in the first quarter of 2012. It is currently the 64th largest export economy in the world.

The country’s top exports include gold (USD$4.43 billion), cocoa beans (USD$1.89 billion), coconuts, brazil nuts, and cashews (USD$987 million), crude petroleum (USD$960 million) and sawn wood (USD$367 million), sent out to Switzerland (USD$1.87 billion), India (USD$1.56 billion), the United Arab Emirates (USD$1.43 billion), China (USD$941 million) and Vietnam (USD$549 million).

The key products

Scientists and entrepreneurs regard neem as a promising plant species which can be influential on the export market for the progress of agricultural communities that grow it. Extracts from neem seeds, bark, and wood can be used for many bio-products, while essential oils are extracted from neem seeds for medical, agricultural and cosmetic use. Research has gone far and wide into potential for a market of organic pesticide and pharmaceuticals from neem for distribution in the domestic, regional and international markets. Locally, neem is a major source of firewood. There are neem trees in Accra which date as far back as the 1920s, with their seeds spread by birds and bats

Neem oil is rich in antioxidants, vitamins and essential fatty acids


Moringa leaves have more vitamin A, protein, calcium and iron than carrots, eggs, milk and spinach respectively. MoringaConnect has integrated supply chains of over 2,500 small farming families and planted over 300,000 moringa trees in Ghana. Its potential to be a high earner for Ghana and end malnutrition cannot be overlooked.

Two palmfuls of moringa leaves


The African shea tree bears butter containing fatty acids which can be used in place of cocoa butter and other natural vegetable butters. Shea is used for skin and hair products thanks to its rejuvenating and moisturizing properties. It is also applied in medicine to stimulate cellular activity, repair damaged skin and smooth wrinkles. According to the Ghana Export Promotion Authority, earnings from shea butter products in 2015 reached USD$64 million, a 23% growth from USD$52 million in 2014.

Shea butter

Cocoa and coffee

Due to a collapse in coffee price in the 1980s, many Ghanaian farmers had to abandon the industry. However, a new government scheme launched in 2011 has transformed interest in Ghanaian coffee, with the introduction of some 2,400 hectares of new coffee plantations. Much of Ghana’s coffee is sold in West Africa, and as such may not appear in official export statistics.

Cocoa butter is the natural, meltable oil extracted from the cocoa bean

Coconuts, brazil nuts, cashews and fruits

Ghana exports USD$987 million worth of these products to top importers including the United States (UDS$1.47 billion), India (USD$1.21 billion), Germany (USD$517 million), the Netherlands (USD$414 million) and the United Kingdom (USD$276 million). More than 70,000 tonnes of fruits including pineapples, citrus, bananas, and pawpaws are exported from Ghana annually.

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