Ghana Can’t Realize Its Vision To Become Net Rice Exporter

Government commitment to transit the country into rice export economy by the year 2020 as it is poised to cut the rice import bill of about US$600million seems challenged with lack of adequate support to rice farmers.

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As about 4,000 metric tonnes of rice ready for harvesting at the Tono Irrigation site at Navrongo in the Upper East Region is likely to go waste as a result of the lack of combine harvester machines.

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This was as a result that, over 2000 farmers in the area who used to do tomato farming in the dry season, diversified their activity to rice cultivation this year, due to lack of market for the tomatoes they used to produce.

All together they cultivated about 1,000 hectares of rice and have got a good yield of about 4,000 metric tonnes which is ripe and ready for harvesting but there are no combined harvesters to do the work.

The smallholder farmers at the scheme site used to cultivate small plots which they harvested manually, but went in for a larger acreage, as they were convinced the rice harvest would be good this year and given the assurance that they would get machines to harvest the crop if they produced on a larger scale.

Moreover, as the rains have now set in, there is the likelihood that the ripe rice on the farms will get destroyed.
The desperate farmers besieged the residence of the Member of Parliament (MP) for the Navrongo Central Constituency, Mr Mark Woyongo, to plead with him to help them get the machines to harvest their produce.

The MP promptly conveyed the farmers’ request to the Minister of Food and Agriculture, Alhaji Mohammed Limuna Muniru, but was told the Ministry did not have any combine harvester machines at the moment.

The MP suggested to the Ministry to contact the Afefe Irrigation Project and other private sectors for the machines.

The sector Minister assured the MP that MOFA would explore all possible means to get combine harvesters to support the farmers.

Speaking to the Media, the MP said commercial rice farming was in line with the government’s policy to promote local rice production, and assured the farmers that everything possible would be done to help them out of their current plight.

He said as a vast majority of farmers were drifting from tomato cultivation to rice farming, there was the urgent need for MOFA to provide combine harvesters at all the irrigation scheme sites in the Region to avert such situations in the future.

The Project Manager of the Tono Irrigation Project, Mr Sebastian Berjena, said the farmers had invested a lot of money on their farms and would lose massively if the government did not come to their aid.

“The farmers have a bumper harvest this year due to the good agronomic practices they adopted, and stand to make good profit since there is a ready market and good price for the produce”, he said.
Meanwhile, when he visited Scotland in March, President John Mahama told parliamentarians there that “We’ve taken rice from the production of 30 to 60% as I speak and so gradually we’re reducing rice import to Ghana”.

Currently, ricce production is said to hover around 290,000metric tonnes whilst, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Ghanaians, in 2014, consumed a total of 754,698 metric tonnes of rice, with imports making up 52 per cent. Smuggling was not accounted for.

A number of challenges stand in the way of the country’s ambitious attempt at reversing the over-importation of a commodity that has overtaken other traditional meals as a staple, especially in urban areas.

The Food and Agriculture Minister, Alhaji Mohammed Limuna argues that efforts at increasing local rice production to curb over-reliance on importation of the commodity is being undermined by lack of adequate infrastructure—specifically rice processing mills—in rice-producing communities of the country

For the 2014/15 farming season, farmers in the three northern regions had thousands of bags of rice locked up in warehouses due to the unavailability of mills to process the commodity, a situation that compelled the farmers to use manual means of rice processing which do not meet market standards.

Ghanaian consumers often cite the presence of stones and paddy rice in locally produced rice, aside price, as the reason they opt for imported brands.

According to the Minister, the situation is an impediment to government’s quest to motivate rice farmers into boosting local production of the commodity to cushion food security, aside from robbing the farmers of their primary source of livelihood.

He said: “Lack of rice-processing plants in the Northern Region is making it difficult to produce to feed the nation and produce quality rice that meets market specifications.

The few in the region are defunct—a situation that has compelled government to continue spending huge sums of money to import similar goods to meet demands of the population. This is affecting income generation of the local rice farmers, aside from discouraging most of the farmers from venturing into the rice sector only to incur debt.”

There are also other production constraints, such as land tenure problems, removal of subsidy on inputs, absence of water control systems which consequently leads to high-risk and non-intensive cropping practices.

Other problems include low yields and low profitability, reduction of the productive capacity of the soil, coupled with over liberalization of rice trade in Ghana.

Locally cultivated rice is often unattractive to prospective buyers or consumers, and sometimes not available to them at all.

Rice is important to the country’s economy and agriculture, accounting for nearly 15% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The rice producing area totals about 45% of the total area planted to cereals. The rice sector is an important provider of rural employment.

Imported rice is also perceived to be of better quality than local rice and thereby reported to command higher prices.

Government has said its strategy is to focus on some of the bottlenecks along the rice value chain that have inhibited the growth of the rice industry.

The strategy is targeting improvements in seed systems, fertilizer marketing and distribution system, harvesting access and maintenance system and research and technology dissemination.

Others include community mobilization, farmer-based organisation and credit management system, as well as monitoring and evaluation.

Source: Adnan Adams Mohammed

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