Although Ghana attained middle income status in 2010 following the discovery of oil, it still ranks 138th out of 187 countries in the 2014 Human Development Report, and is classified as a low-income, food-deficit country. Northern regions display many of the same agro-ecological characteristics as countries in the Sahel, including poor soil quality, a single and increasingly erratic rainy season, and recurrent floods and droughts. 

Northern Ghana lags behind the rest of the country in almost all development indicators.  Six out of ten people are poor, compared to just two out of ten in the southern section. A 2012 Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis identified poverty as the leading cause of food insecurity in Northern Ghana. The high rate of poverty is linked to a number of factors, including choice of occupation and income generating activities. Nine out of ten households farm on mostly small plots of land (five acres or less), limiting their production capacity to little more than subsistence levels. 

The Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions also have some of the highest rates of malnutrition in the country; four out of ten children under the age of five are stunted or chronically malnourished, meaning they will not be able to meet their full growth potential. Nearly thirty percent of people in the Upper East Region do not have adequate access to food, compared to a national average of five percent.