Sunday, 24 November 2019

Local rice market access: gov’t provides assistance

 Image result for ghana Local rice

Adnan Adams Mohammed

The government has acted swiftly to provide assistance to local rice farmers who have their rice locked up without market access and risk losing a lot.

As part of the government intervention, the National Food Buffer Stock Limited has said that it aims to remove the 60,000 maxi bags of excess rice grains left in the open, at the Fumbisi Rice Valley in the Busila South District of the Upper East region, Hanan Abdul-Wahab, Chief executive Officer of the Stock has said, assuring that, by the end of month the rice bags will be put on the market for sale.

The Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana (PFAG), last week, called on the government to, as a matter of urgency, address the issues of post-harvest losses affecting rice production in Ghana. According to the Association, post-harvest issues in Ghana are greatly affecting livelihoods and productivity in Ghana and do not augur well for food security.

“We need a rice factory and market up here to accommodate the local rice. I have over 1,000 bags of rice but don’t know where to take them. The School Feeding Programme does not come for our rice and the other markets cannot absorb them too,” Charles Nyabah, Head of Programmes for PFAG has said. Adding that, the post-harvest losses range from the lack of equipment and facilities available to the farmers.

“We don’t have combine harvesters to harvest the rice here and most remain not harvested annually and we also lack storage facilities for our local rice,” Mr Nyabah lamented.

However, the National Food Buffer Stock CEO believes his outfits intervention will help reduce the risk of farmers. “This will be possible because buyers have expressed interest in purchasing the rice grains as a result of the exposure gained through media publicities done within the week.”

Mr Abdul-Wahab revealed that “licensed market buyers registered under the National Buffer Stock will purchase the grains and they will take them to the mills and continue the production of rice making it ready to supply.”

Also, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) is in talks with 20 major importers of rice into Ghana to get them to rely on locally produced rice for both domestic consumption and export.

Addressing the media, the Minister of Food and Agriculture, Owusu Afriyie Akoto, said the importation of rice will reduce drastically in about three years’ time as the government builds the capacity of local rice farmers.

“At the moment, we are in communication with the 20 biggest importers of rice in this country. We have had three meetings with them and we are telling them that time is going to come soon when they cannot do business and give rice farmers in Thailand, Vietnam and America an opportunity to overcome our own. Our farmers were asleep because of the lack of government’s support. Therefore, it means that if you want to import rice into this country, it means that you are taking away bread from the mouth of the Ghanaian farmers and giving it to those in Thailand. What we are now saying is that, in two or three years’ time, we will work out on an agreement for them to buy from local millers.”

Rice farmers have been so far unable to find a market to sell their rice because of the market is saturated with imported rice which is currently sold at relatively lower prices.

But, the Buffer Stock CEO explained that, the reason behind the farmers’ excess yield is that improved seeds were given to farmers rather than the traditional seeds. Thus, there was a greater yield this year.

He said “that a greater yield was expected and that’s why the One District One Factory (1D1F) policy was introduced to curb the anticipated challenge.”

However, there is still a significant lack of storage warehouses in the country and rice farmers are worried that their harvest will go to waste.

According to Mr Abdul-Wahab, so far seven warehouses have been completed under the 1D1F initiative and are ready to store excess rice grains.

Two other warehouses, are 95 per cent complete and will also soon store excess grains.

He also added that the National Buffer Stock is committing to purchasing ¢50million worth of rice grains and maize this year.

Meanwhile, Mr Nyabah had noted that, many jobs will be created if Ghanaians consume the local rice. He added that with proper packaging which is a bane to local rice production, Ghana will be good to go.

Kwabena Amofah Akuoko, a rice entrepreneur, who has joined the clarion call to promote local rice, said local rice is more nutritious and healthier than imported rice.

“Diabetes and hypertension are on the rise due to the excessive consumption of imported rice. Foreign rice is full of carbohydrates but our local rice has fibre which is good for the body,” he urged.

Rice producers in Ghana continue to struggle to break even as the country’s rice import increases annually.

In some parts of the Northern and Upper East Regions, local farmers are losing their investments due to the lack of a ready market for their produce.

Cost of production for local farmers is often very high with less support from the government.

Ghana’s continuous appetite for imported rice according to analyst have an apparent negative effect on the national economy.

Though it is one of the four main cereals produced and consumed in Ghana alongside maize, millet and sorghum, many believe that efforts made in the past to resolve the rice importation puzzle virtually failed to produce the desired results rendering it a seemingly intractable enterprise.

While rice farmers are asking the government to get them a ready market for their produce, some others are making a difference in food production despite the many challenges they face in their work.

Additionally, the Vice-Chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Trade, Industry and Tourism, Ato Panford, has urged rice farmers in the Northern Region seeking buyers to contact the Agric Directorate and Department at the various District Assemblies for help.

He says government is liaising with Agric extension officers and the Agric Directorates to implement initiatives such as the Planting for Food and Jobs among others, which captures food crops such as rice.

The Shama MP speaking the disturbing situation, said it was unfortunate some farmers are struggling to get buyers when the government is working at addressing the same challenges under the Planting for Food and Jobs programme.

He urged the farmers to contact the local assemblies to provide some assistance since it is the official channel through which the government is implementing its agriculture initiatives.

“One of the key things that the farmers can do is to contact the district assemblies. We have agriculture directors in all the district assemblies. When you are linked up to the agriculture department or the district directorate you will have access to equipment and everything,” he stressed.

Mr. Panford stated that it is important for farmers to connect with the right people to get information on time.

“Information is key in this modern age, and as a farmer before you move into even cultivation, there are some basic information that you need to take in respect of where you want to do your business,” he added.

Subsequently, the Director of Projects at the Ghana Export Promotion Authority, GEPA, Alexander Dadzawa, is hopeful Ghana may become an exporter of rice in the near future with the right investment in their activities.

He believes the country must reach a level where it can produce the rice needed for local consumption.

“There are certain crops that we call staple crops. We also call them food sufficiency crops of which we want to first ensure that Ghana is sufficient in production before we talk about export. So for now rice is not too much in the picture when we are talking about immediate export,” he said.

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