Ex-president Kufuor in big rice business

For every business magnate, US$400 million (GHC1.28 bil­lion) is money that cannot be put into a competitor’s pocket. In the world of a president, that is an amount of money that can put up several classroom blocks, supply water, or even purchase enough fuel to deal with ‘dum-so.’

What about an ex-president? It is dif­ficult to tell, but the answer may not be far if you read the mind of former President John Agyekum Kufuor.

That Ghana spends US$400 million on importation of rice is a headache to the former president. That amount is 147 short of the $547 million Millennium Challenge Account first compact which the United States awarded his administra­tion to construct the N1 (George Bush) Highway, the Mallam interchange and other road networks, especially in the Afram Plains area of the Eastern Region.

It is also about $112 million less than the amount of money the current adminis­tration received on oil exports over Janu­ary to December 2014.

Now, the former president, who was awarded the World Food Prize in 2011 along with Brazilian Lula da Silva, has put the machinery of the John A. Kufuor (JAK) Foundation, which he chairs, into motion to advocate in favour of domestic production of rice.

By this act, he is seeking to beat down the amount of money spent on rice im­ports and help to channel a chunk, if not all, of the amount into the hands of local rice farmers to produce the staple, which has now become the first choice meal for majority of Ghanaian households.

“All we want to do is to ensure that appropriate policy environment is created for the production through processing and marketing of local rice,” Professor Baf­four Agyemang-Duah, Chief Executive Officer of the JAK Foundation, spoke of the former president’s intentions.

He was speaking on Tuesday in Accra where the JAK Foundation, in col­laboration with the Ghana Rice Inter-professional Body, GRIB, outdoored a Public-Private National Dialogue Council on Rice, a vehicle that will facilitate the sharing of ideas by private sector actors and public sector institutions on policy and regulatory improvements for the rice industry in Ghana.

According to Prof. Agyemang-Duah, the Public-Private National Dialogue Council on Rice (or Rice Council) is “an effort, in collaboration with other partners, to revive the Ghanaian spirit especially in the area of Ghanaian rice production.

“We want to today, constitute a council and inaugurate it…so that the public sector, which is normally controlled by government, and the private sector where individuals, independent people and com­panies are operating can come together, have a common platform to dialogue on the best, appropriate policies for our rice industry to meet local demand,” he intimated.

In real terms, the value of the rice industry per annum is worth more than the US$400 giving that local rice produc­tion is calculated to be in the region of 30 percent of national need.

The JAK Foundation has, therefore, taken a strategic initiative to ensure that if the local production is not propped, in the least, the existing quota for local farmers can be preserved.

Looking three to four decades back, however, one gets a picture of massive retrogression. Here, Prof. Agyemang-Duah recalled: “…we know that in the early 70s this country started exporting rice. I was a young man, and I saw it myself under the government of General (Ignatius Kutu) Acheampong. Through a very, very vigorous policy of operation feed yourself, we produced so much rice we started exporting rice to our neigh­bouring countries.”

Sprint into 2014, and you will find that Ghana is a pale shadow of its former self. Prof. Agyemang-Duah acknowledges that “We’ve been told many times by governments that we spend a chunk of our scarce resources on importing rice. And I understand that currently we spend about 400 million dollars a year on rice importation. The assumption is that if we can produce our own rice then we will be saving ourselves that much.”

His lamentation is that “the whole idea of relying on imported rice is the problem just as we relying on so many goods im­ported for our livelihoods is a problem.” He expatiates that “Now we know we are importing not only rice, we are also im­porting tomatoes, some vegetables, plan­tain; things that in our very youthful days we will just walk behind the backyard and just get them free of charge to our homes for our meals.”

According to the Ministry of Trade, a minimum US$500 million is spent on rice imports and even that is modest because many importers engage in under-invoicing or under declaration of actual value of their imports in order to avoid tax.

Evans Sackey, Executive Secretary at GRIB, supplies that current rice consump­tion is at 1.6 million metric tonnes, up almost three-fold from the 2008 figure of 600,000 metric tonnes. Per the statistics, not more than 500,000 metric tonnes, or 31 percent, is supplied by local producers.

The inauguration of the Rice Council is, therefore, meant to address challenges to local production, which are mainly policy-related so that an enabling environ­ment can be created for local production to thrive.

“The expectation is that after this council is inaugurated, it will look at the rice strategy and validate the priorities therein. We will not end there. We are also hoping that zonal councils will also be launched in the regions where priorities of stakeholders will also be discussed. Then the findings at both the local and national levels will serve as the basis for the public-private dialogue on the rice industry,” said Prof. Agyemang-Duah.

He added, “So, this is just the begin­ning. We are building the national archi­tecture, to be followed by the regional group.”

Beyond the short term, “we envisage that in the near future, this council will link to the rice councils in other neigh­bouring countries, for instance in Nigeria and Burkina Faso, to constitute a West African rice council. And if we succeed in that, we can link that to other sub-regional councils as, for instance, we have in East Africa,” the CEO said.

Meanwhile, the JAK foundation is a partner to a major rice initiative – Com­petitive African Rice Initiative, CARI. In partnership with TechnoServe and Kilimo Trust of Tanzania, the project is designed to maximize rice production in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania. This five-year project empowers small-scale rice farmers in these Sub-Saharan Africa countries and is sponsored by the Ger­man Cooperation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and managed by the German Development Corporation, GIZ.

“The JAK Foundation is a partner han­dling mainly the advocacy and policy as­pects of the rice industry in Africa,” Prof. Agyemang-Duah stated. “Through these four countries, we hope to create these councils that will, hopefully, cascade into an African kind of rice council so that in the future, all Africa can be self-reliant.”

source : The Sun Newspaper