The European Journal of Development Research

, Volume 31, Issue 1, pp 95–117 | Cite as

Small-Town Agricultural Markets in Northern Ghana and Their Connection to Rural and Urban Transformation

  • Hanna KargEmail author
  • Imogen Bellwood-Howard
  • Edmund K. Akoto-Danso
  • Johannes Schlesinger
  • Takemore Chagomoka
  • Axel Drescher
Special Issue Article


Markets are critical in connecting small towns with agricultural activities in their rural hinterland. This paper presents data from north-eastern Ghana on grain marketing and trade flows, combined with data on expansion of built and transport infrastructure in five linked towns of a periodic market system. Rurally sourced goods flow through historically established small-town and regional markets to national and international markets. Simultaneously, infrastructure and service provision develops in those small towns. These trends are linked by recursive, reinforcing processes of increasing consumption, agricultural commercialisation and economic diversification. Historical structures, such as periodic markets, and the nature of the commodities involved are central to this linkage and interact with policy: the commodities concerned have been promoted in northern Ghana in preceding decades, and contribute to small-town market development by integrating smoothly into existing local systems. Historical continuity is therefore central to the role that small towns play in rural–urban transformation.


Agricultural market Northern Ghana Small town Periodic markets Territorial approach 


Les marchés sont essentiels pour relier les petites villes aux activités agricoles dans leur arrière-pays rural. Cet article présente des données du nord-est du Ghana sur la commercialisation des céréales et les flux commerciaux, ainsi que des données sur l’expansion des infrastructures de construction et de transport dans cinq villes reliées par un marché périodique. Les produits qui viennent des zones rurales circulent à travers les marchés historiquement établis au niveau des régions et des petites villes, vers les marchés nationaux et internationaux. Simultanément, les infrastructures et les services se développent dans ces petites villes. Ces tendances sont liées par des processus récursifs et entremêlés d’augmentation de la consommation, de la commercialisation agricole et de la diversification économique. Les structures historiques, telles que les marchés périodiques, et la nature des produits vendus sont au cœur de ce lien et interagissent avec les politiques : les produits concernés ont été promus dans le nord du Ghana au cours des décennies précédentes et contribuent au développement du marché des petites villes en s’intégrant de façon fluide aux systèmes locaux existants. La continuité historique est donc au coeur du rôle que jouent les petites villes dans la transformation ruro-urbaine.



This work was carried out as part of the UrbanFoodPlus project, jointly funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) under the initiative GlobE – Research for the Global Food Supply, grant numbers 031A242-A, 031A242-C and 031A242-D, with support from the CGIAR research program on Water, Land and Ecosystems. We thank Alhassan Yakubu for his assistance in data collection and Hannah Straub for supporting the change analysis. We are grateful to the University for Development Studies, in particular to Prof. George Nyarko and Prof. Gordana Kranjac-Berisavljevic, for their support during fieldwork.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there are no conflicts of interest.


  1. AfDB, OECD, UNDP. 2016. African Economic Outlook 2016: Sustainable Cities and Structural Transformation. Paris: OECD.Google Scholar
  2. Africapolis/e-Geopolis, SWAC/OECD. 2013. Africapolis List and Population of West African Urban Agglomerations 1950–2010.
  3. Agergaard, A., and S.B. Ortenbjerg. 2017. Urban transformations and rural-city connections in Africa. Geografisk Tidsskrift-Danish Journal of Geography 117 (2): 63–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Al-Hassan, R., and C. Poulton. 2009. Agriculture and Social Protection in Ghana. FAC Working Paper SP04. Brighton: Future Agricultures Consortium—Centre for Social Protection.Google Scholar
  5. Andersson Djurfeldt, A. 2015. Urbanization and Linkages to Smallholder Farming in Sub-Saharan Africa: Implications for Food Security. Global Food Security 4: 1–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Andreasen, M., J. Agergaard, R. Kiunsi, and A. Namangaya. 2017. Urban Transformations, Migration and Residential Mobility Patterns in African Secondary Cities. Geografisk Tidsskrift-Danish Journal of Geography 117 (2): 93–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bah, M., S. Cissé, B. Diyamett, G. Diallo, F. Lerise, D. Okali, E. Okpara, J. Olawoye, and C. Tacoli. 2003. Changing Rural–Urban Linkages in Mali, Nigeria and Tanzania. Environment and Urbanization 15 (1): 13–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Banjo, G., H. Gordon, and J. Riverson. 2012. Rural Transport: Improving its Contribution to Growth and Poverty Reduction in Sub-Saharan Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa Transport Policy Program (SSATP) Working Paper No. 93. Washington, DC: World Bank.Google Scholar
  9. Bellwood-Howard, I., and S. Al-Hassan. 2016. Fertiliser Credit and Agroecological Use of Organic Soil Amendments in Northern Ghana. African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development 16 (2): 10787–10808.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bellwood-Howard, I., V. Häring, H. Karg, R. Roessler, J. Schlesinger, and M. Shakya. 2015. Characteristics of Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture in West Africa: Results of an Exploratory Survey Conducted in Tamale (Ghana) and Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso). IWMI Working Paper 163. Colombo, Sri Lanka: International Water Management Institute (IWMI).Google Scholar
  11. Christaller, W. 1968. Die zentralen Orte in Süddeutschland: Eine ökonomisch-geographische Untersuchung über die Gesetzmässigkeit der Verbreitung und Entwicklung der Siedlungen mit städtischen Funktionen, 2nd ed. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.Google Scholar
  12. Evans, H.E. 1992. A Virtuous Circle Model of Rural–Urban Development: Evidence from a Kenyan Small Town and Its Hinterland. The Journal of Development Studies 28 (4): 640–667.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fagerlund, V.G., and R.H.T. Smith. 1970. A Preliminary Map of Market Periodicities in Ghana. The Journal of Developing Areas 4 (3): 333–348.Google Scholar
  14. Goody, J. 1980. Rice-Burning and the Green Revolution in Northern Ghana. The Journal of Development Studies 16 (2): 136–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Haggblade, S., S. Longabaugh, D. Boughton, N. Dembelé, B. Diallo, J. Staatz, and D. Tschirley. 2012. Staple Food Market Sheds in West Africa. MSU International Development Working Paper No. 121. Michigan State University, Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics.Google Scholar
  16. Hussein, K., and D. Suttie. 2016. Rural–Urban Linkages and Food Systems in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Rural Dimension. 05 IFAD Research Series, Rome.Google Scholar
  17. Karg, H., P. Drechsel, E.K. Akoto-Danso, R. Glaser, G. Nyarko, and A. Buerkert. 2016. Foodsheds and City Region Food Systems in Two West African Cities. Sustainability 8 (12): 1175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lazaro, E., J. Agergaard, M.N. Larsen, J. Makindara, and T. Birch-Thomsen. 2017. Rural Transformation and the Emergence of Urban Centres in Tanzania. IGN Report, October 2017. Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen.Google Scholar
  19. Lynch, K. 2018. Rural–Urban Interaction and Development in Africa. In Handbook of African Development, ed. T. Binns, K. Lynch, and E. Nel, 43–412. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  20. McKim, W. 1972. The Periodic Market System in Northeastern Ghana. Economic Geography 48 (3): 333–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Nchanji, E., and I. Bellwood-Howard. 2016. Traditional Provisioning Responsibilities of Women in Northern Ghana. In Gender and Food: From Production to Consumption and After, ed. M. Segal and V. Demos, 41–64. Castle Hill: Emerald.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Obudho, R.A. 1976. Temporal Periodicity and Locational Spacing of Periodic and Daily Markets in Kenya. Cahiers d’études africaines 16 (63–64): 553–566.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. OECD. 2013. Settlement, Market and Food Security. West African Futures. Paris: OECD.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Porter, G. 1995. The Impact of Road Construction on Women’s Trade in Rural Nigeria. Journal of Transport Geography 3 (1): 3–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Porter, G. 2005. From Periodic Markets to Supermarkets: What Hope for Equitable and Sustainable Food Markets in Africa? Journal of Sustainable Development 2 (2): 2–8.Google Scholar
  26. Porter, G., F. Lyon, and D. Potts. 2007. Market Institutions and Urban Food Supply in West and Southern Africa: A Review. Progress in Development Studies 7 (2): 115–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Pretty, J., C. Toulmin, and S. Williams. 2011. Sustainable Intensification in African Agriculture. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 9 (1): 5–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Satterthwaite, D., and C. Tacoli. 2003. The Urban Part of Rural Development: The Role of Small and Intermediate Urban Centres in Rural and Regional Development and Poverty Reduction. Working Paper Series on Rural–Urban Interactions No. 9. London: IIED.Google Scholar
  29. Satterthwaite, D., and C. Tacoli. 2006. The Role of Small and Intermediate Urban Centres in Regional and Rural Development: Assumptions and Evidence. In The Earthscan Reader in Rural–Urban Linkages, ed. C. Tacoli, 155–183. London: Earthscan.Google Scholar
  30. Skinner, W. 1964. Marketing and Social Structure in Rural China: Part I. The Journal of Asian Studies 24 (1): 3–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Smith, R.H.T. 1979. Periodic Market-Places and Periodic Marketing: Review and Prospect—I. Progress in Human Geography 3 (4): 471–505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Soi, I., and P. Nugent. 2017. Peripheral Urbanism in Africa: Border Towns and Twin Towns in Africa. Journal of Borderlands Studies 32 (4): 535–556.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Tacoli, C. 2017. Why Small Towns Matter: Urbanisation, Rural Transformations Food Security. IIED Briefings, March 2017. London: IIED.Google Scholar
  34. Tacoli, C. 2016. Informal Food Systems and Food Security in Rural and Urban East Africa. IIED Briefings, February 2016. London: IIED.Google Scholar
  35. Tacoli, C. and J. Agergaard. 2017. Urbanisation, Rural Transformations and Food Systems: The Role of Small Towns. IIED Working Papers, January 2017. London: IIED.Google Scholar
  36. Tracey-White, J. 2005. Rural–Urban Marketing Linkages: An Infrastructure Identification and Survey Guide. FAO Agricultural Service Bulletin No. 161. Rome: FAO.Google Scholar
  37. United Nations. 2017. New Urban Agenda. HABITAT III. Quito, 17–20 October 2016. A/RES/71/256*.Google Scholar
  38. Walther, O. 2012. Traders, Agricultural Entrepreneurs and the Development of Cross-Border Regions in West Africa. Entrepreneurship & Regional Development 24 (3–4): 123–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Walther, O., A.M. Howard, and D. Retaillé. 2015. West African Spatial Patterns of Economic Activities: Combining the ‘Spatial Factor’ and ‘Mobile Space’ Approaches. African Studies 74 (3): 346–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Physical Geography, Institute of Environmental Social Sciences and GeographyAlbert-Ludwigs-Universität FreiburgFreiburg im BreisgauGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Social and Cultural AnthropologyGeorg-August-Universität GöttingenGöttingenGermany
  3. 3.Organic Plant Production and Agroecosystems Research in the Tropics and SubtropicsUniversität KasselWitzenhausenGermany
  4. 4.Institute of GeographyFriedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-NürnbergErlangenGermany

Personalised recommendations