Gov’t plans local rice sufficiency by 2018

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Government’s ambitious 2018 target for local rice farmers to fully meet domestic demand has been described as very feasible by the Ghana Grains Council, although it adds that such a feat will demand government’s total commitment.

The country’s current rice production accounts for about 47 percent its 1.8 million m/t total rice consumption.

Rice is one of the major items on Ghana’s import bill, with a market size estimated to be over US$1billion. Reducing the size of rice imports has become a priority for government, which sees it as a way of easing pressure on foreign exchange reserves

According to Dr. Godwin Ansah, Managing Director of the council, much as an outright ban of rice importation is a good thing, the current low capacity of local farmers means that they are unable to meet the market demand.

“If that ban happens overnight, how do we meet the shortfall of more than 50 percent currently filled by imported rice? That’s why any ban at all should not be immediate,” he said.

The Ministry of Food and Agriculture, in its Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy (FASDEP II), announced a raft of measures and initiatives that will see at least a 20 percent annual increment of local rice production.

Currently local rice producers, mostly smallholder farmers, gross about 600,000 tonnes annually amidst several challenges. Dr. Ansah told the B&FT in an interview that beyond just raising their output, there are other challenges the farmers have to contend with to boost local consumption.

“These challenges have to do with issues of branding, marketing, which are major issues as far as local rice is concerned; we are very weak in that area. There’s also limited access to good breeds or varieties of rice that help to boost productivity,” he added. Govt’s lead role

According to the Ghana Grains Council, government’s assistance to local farmers by way of various policy support such as FASDEP, Ghana Commercial Agriculture Project (GCAP) are commendable, but government as a consumer must boost its purchases.

“There a lot of things government can do to help on the demand side. For instance, government can direct management of the School Feeding Programme to only use rice grown locally as against imported rice,” he said.

Previously, management of the school feeding programme were sourcing rice locally; but due to the inability of government to release funds on time to pay local farmers, that relationship was strained. The GGC Council MD therefore believes a different approach to the relationship is needed to ensure the farmers remain in business.

Ghana Grains Council is a private sector-led initiative by leaders in the grain business, established with the aim of intervening in the grains value chain to achieve improvement in productivity, quality and greater commercialization of the industry.

source : B&FT