At 55 years old, our country is in good health. The economy is bursting with promise, and in terms of development, we are taking considerable steps along the right path. Over the past three years much has been achieved in pursuance of our “Better Ghana” agenda. Despite the fact that we have experienced some internal and external difficulties, we have reason to believe in Ghana’s hopeful future.

The world is interconnected, and caution is a necessity. A recent report by the World Bank has alerted developing countries to a number of impending and ongoing challenges. Further economic shocks may well be a reality in 2012, and the need for contingency planning will be of paramount importance. We are therefore watching developments in the global economy with a sense of hope and apprehension, and with an eye toward preparedness.

We are hopeful that an eventual easing of the global crisis is likely to give rise to economic stability and expansion, not only in Ghana, but also across the whole continent of Africa. There is also apprehension, derived from the fact that further weakening of the highly indebted developed countries and of the global economy in general will have serious consequences. A prolonged economic downturn would affect commodity prices, which contribute so much to Ghana’s development and growth.

Notwithstanding these global economic uncertainties, we aim to focus on continued progress in the management of the national economy. Ghana recorded the highest ever growth rate in the annals of our nation’s history in 2011, with a provisional growth rate approaching 14%. Growth has been accompanied by improvement of living standards.

Construction of new roads has advanced, while most of the roads that were in a poor state have been rehabilitated. We have also embarked on a substantial investment programme in the education sector, and as a result, additional classroom blocks and dormitories have been added at almost all of the senior high schools, creating better learning conditions. To meet the current challenges of the health care sector, we have invested heavily in new clinics and health posts and have rehabilitated and expanded several hospitals across the country.

We have also worked to ensure that most Ghanaians, especially our brothers and sisters in the rural areas, benefit from the provision of electricity. We hope by this intervention to improve the quality of life in the rural areas and to create additional job opportunities. This in turn will help reduce rural-urban migration and the negative effects that it can have on both urban and rural areas.

The credit for our performance should rest not only with all Ghanaians and the government as the direct manager of the economy, but also with parliament as a monitoring force of democratically elected public officials. The positive economic indicators we have achieved have resulted in increased investor confidence in the economy, a paramount indication of future success, and a stable basis on which to create more growth for our country.

But economic development must benefit Ghanaians across all levels of society. We need to maintain a focus on job creation, given its importance for the growth of the economy and the overall progress of the nation. The state has been working directly with the leadership of the private sector to identify innovative ways of creating jobs, not only through the implementation of some of the customary methods of employment expansion, but also by focusing on non-traditional employment mechanisms. Moreover, the government’s investments in infrastructure development, as well as the building of the allied petrochemicals industries associated with the country’s oil and gas resources, will engender further employment opportunities in the coming years.

Job creation must also be supported by the expansion of opportunities in the agricultural sector. Not only do we need to offer to our citizens a future of further economic development, but we also need to secure sufficient supplies of food at affordable prices. Following our strong commitment to the modernisation of agriculture, the government has increased the number of rice harvesters and maize harvesters. Additional emphasis has been put on grain storage facilities and the creation of bore holes for agricultural purposes. Agricultural mechanisation service centres have also been established.

As a result of targeted interventions in the agricultural sector, we have recorded significant increases in rice, yam and maize production. Our cotton farmers in the Northern Region can attest to how far we have come in reviving the cotton industry. Between 2009 and 2011, the government also rehabilitated several irrigation dams in the Greater Accra, Volta, Ashanti and Brong Ahafo Regions.

Ghana produced more than 1m tonnes of cocoa in 2011, a significant increase over the output in 2008, which stood at about 680,000 tonnes. But a fair agricultural sector must respect its workers. At an average world market price of $2450 per tonne in January 2012, we are paying the cocoa farmer about 80% of the world market price.

The government, through the Ghana Cocoa Board, has launched a six-year cocoa replanting programme to rehabilitate some of the country’s older cocoa farms. This scheme entails the production of elite cocoa hybrid seedlings that are then distributed to farmers, at no cost, to be used in replanting. One of the main objectives of this replanting programme is to create employment opportunities for our youth in cocoa-growing communities. Through the Youth in Agriculture programme, we also provide assistance to help our younger citizens acquire the relevant techniques and skills in cocoa production. Another objective is to encourage under-producing farmers to expand their cultivated areas.

Continued protection of the nation’s land and maritime resources are of paramount importance. Ensuring good relations between Ghana and our regional partners is also essential for a country determined to encourage stability across the continent. Ghana has an impressive track record of fostering international peace and we will stay on that path, conducting our foreign relations on the basis of national respect and good cooperation. We believe in using the tools of diplomacy and existing bilateral and multilateral structures in resolving disputes.

But regional relationships and mutual development must take trade into consideration. Boosting intra-African trade is a way forward for our continent, as it is quite clear that over the last decade the global economy has gone though significant and unprecedented changes. Global economic growth has been driven not by the industrialised nations of the Western world, but by the emerging economies of Asia, Latin America and also the countries of our continent Africa. Advances in information and communications technology, and the development of innovative technologies in other areas have not only come from the industrialised countries of the Western world, but also from the emerging economies. Africa cannot continue to sit on the sidelines and watch these developments. This is imperative.

Nowadays, most African countries import more goods and products from major emerging markets like India, China, Turkey and Brazil than from the EU nations and the US. The implications of this shift are something that we need to consider and reflect upon. As a country, Ghana will continue to nurture foreign trade and evaluate our increasing strength on the world economic stage.

Ghana’s opportunities are infinite and its potential boundless. Our country has substantial mineral reserves, we have petroleum and gas, and we also have available arable land. But our greatest resource is our young people, and we need to create the opportunities for them to have gainful employment. There is still a lot of work to be done in this respect.