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November/December 2008
ProVocative

Standards in Ghana

Challenges and Opportunities in a West African Nation

Mustapha Kumah, head of the Technical Coordination Services Department at the Ghana Standards Board, responded by email to SN’s questions about Ghana and how standards can make a difference there – and have already done so.

The Ghana Standards Board, which signed a memorandum of understanding with ASTM International in 2007, operates under the Standards Decree of 1973 NRCD 173. GSB is the national statutory body responsible for the management of Ghana’s quality infrastructure and encompasses metrology, standards, testing and quality assurance, including conformity assessment and certification.

GSB, in collaboration with experts from stakeholder organizations, develops national standards for all sectors of the Ghanaian economy, spanning food, agriculture, engineering, metrology and quality management and services. As an exporter of horticultural and agricultural products, the most important area of standardization is in the horticultural and agricultural sector. However, with the 2007 oil discovery off Ghana’s coast, standards development for the petroleum and natural gas industries, information and communication technology, tourism as well as the environment are a high priority for the immediate future.

 

What challenges does your country face where you feel standards can make a difference? Do you feel you have particular challenges in terms of geography and climate in connection with standards development and adoption?

The most important challenge Ghana currently faces is how to meet target market requirements for exports to the European Union and the United States. These requirements, which are either regulatory or non-regulatory, could all be addressed by demonstrating compliance to relevant standards.

In the area of timber and medicinal plant product exports, for example, Ghana needs to demonstrate that harvesting is done in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner. There is also the need to demonstrate the use of child-free labor for cocoa production through Fair Trade certification. Even though most growers already have this certification through government or external support, the service is provided largely by foreign certification bodies, which makes it very expensive. It is therefore difficult to see how the program could be sustained by small-scale farmers without external support.

Like most developing nations, the challenges we face also include limited research data in the formulation of relevant standards, limited capacity by producers to demonstrate compliance to standards and the nonavailability of local conformity assessment bodies.

How have standards recently been helpful in your country?

Ghanaian fruit and vegetable exporters had a problem with meeting access requirements of the EU, U.S. and Japanese markets a few years ago. With the support of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), we developed a number of standards for horticultural products.

Some of the standards developed for horticultural crops to enter domestic and international markets in their fresh natural state include specifications for okra, pineapples, papaya, mango, hot peppers and ginger.

The standards specify quality and grading requirements for the various products; they also specify, among other criteria, pesticide residue limits as well as acceptable limits for heavy metals. The pesticides and heavy metals limits are in accordance with those of the relevant product standards of the Codex Alimentarius Commission.

The implementation of the standards usually starts with training farmers, transporters and other stakeholders on the standards’ requirements. Usually, codes of good practice are also developed to assist standards users. Training is then followed by establishing an inspection scheme and selecting competent inspector(s) to ensure that products meet the relevant standard requirements before produce can be approved for export by the Ghana Export Promotion Council. The Ghana Food and Drugs Board typically also uses these standards to regulate domestic trade in these products.

Implementing these standards has tremendously improved the market access of these products due to their improved quality. The standards also serve as a marketing tool for exporters. It is our hope that, in the long term, these standards will improve food safety and quality in the country.

How will the ASTM International standards that GSB is initially adopting through the MOU program affect your organization and your country? What areas would you like to emphasize in your partnership with ASTM in the coming months?

In the recent past Ghana witnessed a number of accidents from explosions from liquefied petroleum gas cylinders and at gas distribution facilities. Another problem was that of petroleum product contamination. The responsible regulatory body, which was required to address the situation, realized that it could be addressed effectively with the use of international standards, and therefore approached GSB to provide the requisite standards.

The adoption of ASTM standards saved the situation by enabling the stakeholders to agree on the relevant specifications and the test methods that were acceptable to all parties. For example, standard methods for sampling of petroleum products (ASTM D4057, Practice for Manual Sampling of Petroleum and Petroleum Products, and ASTM D5854, Practice for Mixing and Handling of Liquid Samples of Petroleum and Petroleum Products) ensured that the parties involved agreed on how the sampling of the products should be done even before testing. The method for testing water in organic liquids (ASTM E1064, Test Method for Water in Organic Liquids by Coulometric Karl Fischer Titration) also proved very useful as water contamination was found to be a major problem.

We foresee similar situations arising in the future in the petroleum, building and construction, and information and communications technology sectors. There is the need to be prepared.

Where do you see potential growth and opportunities in the Ghanaian economy?

We anticipate growth in the petroleum and natural gas industry in view of the recent offshore discovery of oil in the Gulf of Guinea. It is also expected that this will trigger growth in the petrochemical industry as well as building and general construction.

The Ghana Standards Board has already submitted to the government of Ghana a list of international standards (including International Organization for Standardization and ASTM) that would be required to support the petroleum industry. The standards, which include specifications, test methods, quality and environmental management systems, would ensure the acceptability of Ghana’s petroleum products in the global market.

The service sector, including information and communications technology, banking and tourism are also expected to continue their upward trend. However, it is projected that the agricultural sector will continue to be the backbone of the Ghanaian economy for a long time to come.

Mustapha Kumah is head of the Technical Coordination Services Department at the Ghana Standards Board, where he coordinates the development of national standards and the distribution of information to stakeholders on standards and technical regulations. Kumah also coordinates Ghana’s participation in regional and international standardization activities as well as GSB’s relations with other national standards bodies.