Coronavirus has dealt a serious blow to global economies. To ensure food security, some countries have banned the exportation of the three most widely consumed staples namely rice, wheat, and maize. In Ghana, this temporary ban has led to the skyrocketing of the price of imported rice. This is according to the Exporters Association of Ghana. Consequently, local rice farmers are witnessing an increase in demand for their products.
Across many West African nations, consumer preference for imported rice is killing local production. For example, the government of Nigeria had to close all its borders to imports citing the illegal smuggling of rice. Ever since, local production of the staple has almost doubled. However, the World Bank is calling for collective actions to keep food trade flowing between countries. This is to avert impending food price crises.
Experts say Ghanaians consume at least 40 kilograms of rice per annum. However, rice farmers in Ghana are only able to meet about half of the country’s demand. Samson Asaki Awingobit, the executive secretary of the Exporters Association of Ghana said the high prices of imported rice are making the local alternatives more competitive. Awingobit believes this can lead to a boost in local production and ensure food security.
Rice production in Ghana
There are three main types of rice production methods employed by rice farmers in Ghana. They are namely Valley-bottom rice, Upland, and Controlled flooding. Valley-bottom rice and Upland make use of the local cultivars Oryza glaberrima. Individual production is usually on a small scale. However, the practice is extremely widespread.
Since 2017, Ghana has boosted local production through Planting for Food and Jobs program. The aim of the project is to help meet the target of becoming self-sufficient in rice production by 2023. The program supplies subsidized fertilizer and rice seeds to rice farmers to boost production and food security. There are testimonies that prove the program was a success.
In 2019 Ghana launched a campaign, Eat Ghana Rice, to support the local rice industry. However, the market remained dominated by imported brands. Perhaps, if the coronavirus pandemic lasts long enough, Ghanaians may get used to the local variety—and stick with it.
The way forward for rice farmers in Ghana
The key to sustainable agriculture in any country is consumer acceptance. Also, there is a need for African governments to invest more in local rice production. Maxwell Darko Asante, a rice farmer says the current disruption in the supply chain due to the coronavirus pandemic further buttresses this point. According to Asante,
“As science is driving the way we deal with this pandemic, it should apply to crop scientists as well, where the government should begin to pay more attention to crop science and crop research, and especially rice because we spend so much money importing rice.”
Abena Abedi has been working with rice farmers for over a decade. She works with small-holder farmers to promote Ghana’s rice. She supports the farmers throughout the planting phase. Also, she buys, process, package, and market the local grains for the farmers. Speaking on the way forward for local rice farmers she said,
“The farmers have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that they can produce in abundance. If we are able to develop more lowlands, if we are able to rehabilitate the irrigation schemes we have available, if we are able to give stimulus packages to rice value chain drivers—they will be able to buy the surplus off the farmers immediately and pay them.”