Severe drought and crop failure are normally not connected to Ghana as a matter of course, but rather as an exception. In living memory, the year 1983 stands out, when the results of drought and crop failure early in the year were exacerbated by the influx of over 1.5 million Ghanaians flowing into the country from Nigeria, which had expelled them (Editorial Staff, '1983 A Year Ghana Would Prefer to Forget', African Globe 22 Jan 2013).
Historically, information about famine in Ghana is sparse, although sources reporting on them are available, as it turned out, when I scanned the archives of the Netherlands Possessions on the Coast of Guinea. This collection is in the National Archives in The Hague, but was recently also made available as high definition scans in an online repository (Archief Nederlandse Bezittingen ter Kuste van Guinea).
The particular record series I studied were the letters of the Dutch director-general (governor) at Elmina to his superiors in the Netherlands, reporting on important affairs. In his letter of 15 July 1749, director-general Jan van Voorst wrote about the dire state of the Dutch possessions, highlighting the lack of personnel and provisions, and the poor condition of trade with the hinterland. As usual in this period, he referred to warfare and the blockade of trade routes as an important reason. However, near the end of his letter, almost as an afterthought, Van Voorst pointed at another serious reason for the poor state of affairs:
'[...] Also, in the last six months [i.e. since January 1749], such a sad and serious famine visited the whole Coast (caused by an extraordinary drought in the past year, which made the cereal crops fail), that many natives died daily from hunger. Had I not had some victuals in store during that time, and having had the opportunity to buy some for the maintenance of the garrison, truly, [Your Honourable Gentlemen], the fate of the white people would have been miserable, because the natives would not sell provisions for gold, and thus the transportation of victuals [to the Gold Coast from the Netherlands] is highly necessary.'
In summary: 1748 had seen a serious drought on the Gold Coast, in which the crops had failed; cereals are mentioned, but most likely vegetables and other food-crops were affected too, not to mention livestock. In the following dry season of 1748-1749, this led to severe shortages in food supply, and eventually to a famine that affected large parts of the population, including those (the Europeans mainly) that could secure access to imported foodstuffs. 'Many' - dozens, maybe hundreds of - people died on a daily basis. And we have to keep in mind here that the figures are those Van Voorst registered from his immediate surroundings, so one can hazard to guess what the situation in the hinterland of the coastal settlements was like.
Thus, a social economic disaster visited the Gold Coast in that year, most likely with immediate geo-political consequences, as well as a fall out of several years to come.
It is just a note in a letter, easily missed. However, a source of importance for our knowledge of the social-economic and political history of Ghana, and – in terms of methodology – a pointer to a source that may yield more information on the subject.
Addition (15 March 2016):
Further scrutiny of the Elmina journals brought to light an entry by director-general Van Voorst on 11 September 1748, in which he warns the captain of the Dutch West India Company slave trading ship De Maria Galeij, that he has to take into account that he cannot get any fresh drinking water at Elmina, 'because of the excessive drought, [which continues] since some time.' This confirms that the rainy season of 1748 was extremely dry. All ships are sent to the port of Shama, on the estuary of the River Prah, to take in fresh water.
National Archives of the Netherlands, Archives of the Dutch Possessions on the Coast of Guinea (acc. no. 1.05.14), inv. no. 265, Letters to the directors of the Dutch West India Company, doc. no.: letter by director-general Jan van Voorst, Elmina 15 July 1749 (link).
National Archives of the Netherlands, Archives of the Dutch Possessions on the Coast of Guinea (acc. no. 1.05.14), inv. no. 109, Elmina Journal and correspondence with the outer forts, 1748, Journal entry 11 September 1748, with letter by director-general Jan van Voorst to captain Herloff of the W.I.C. ship De Maria Galeij in the roadstead of Elmina (link).
Editorial Staff, '1983 A Year Ghana Would Prefer to Forget', African Globe 22 Jan 2013.
'El Nino threatens "millions in east and southern Africa"', BBC World News Africa website, 15 November 2015.
Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World (London: Verso Books 2001).
Late Victorian Holocausts. (2016, February 14). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 11:39, February 17, 2016.