Ghana has 85% trade deficit in rice, maize needs: US official says

With agriculture contributing close to 30% of gross domestic product (GDP) employing 56% of the labour force, Ghana still has trade deficits of rice and maize needs of 85%, according to a sheet made available by officials of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Accra.

The country has a population of about 24.7 million, according to the recent census figures from the Ghana Statistical Service.

The sheet indicates that there is a 70% trade deficit in rice needs as well as 15% in maize. Rice and maize are said to be two of Ghana’s staple crops aside cassava and yam.

Ghana spends $450 million annually on rice importation to augment local demand. The country’s self-sufficiency in rice production stands at about 30%, leaving a short fall of 70%, a situation the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Representative in Ghana, Musa Saihou Mbenga says is becoming a source of worry.

“By limiting the importation of rice, the country will save money and invest in market development to increase productivity and expand growth. This is how most countries develop,” said Musa Saihou Mbenga in an interview with Business and Financial Times in July 2011.

Maize production in the country on the other hand, seems to be meeting the local demand of consumption but it is competing with the poultry industry as chickens, fowls etc mainly depend on maize.

Statistics show that maize makes up 37% of sub-Sahara Africa’s (SSA’s) total cereal consumption. The price of maize doubled in the year to April 2011 to $319/tonne as stocks fell.

It is said that rice and maize in recent times had become a major food security crop and extremely an important Ghanaian dish.

But despite these assertions, Mr Fenton Sands, Senior Food Security Officer, USAID Ghana, says “Ghana is not particularly food insecure.”

The food security expert explains that the country can take care of itself looking the stable economy Ghana is enjoying. Economists and institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Standard Bank Group expect Ghana’s economy to grow at least by 16% by the end of 2011.

“Ghana is not particularly food insecure – It can take care of itself – It has a stable economy,” Mr Fenton Sands told journalists at the US Embassy in Accra October 11, 2011.

But he noted that Northern Ghana is where there is some food insecurity. The challenge in the region is the lean seasons it experiences, he added.

Mr Sands indicated that during the period, households become vulnerable to food security in terms of food nutrition.

He indicated that the US government has initiated a programme known as “Feed The Future” which is to increase the competitiveness of major food value chains, strengthening the resilience of vulnerable communities and households and to improve the nutritional status of women and children in Northern Ghana. The initiative is led by the USAID.

According to a Ghana News Agency publication, the deputy Northern Regional Director of the MOFA, Mr Stephen Yakubu, disclosed in a paper on “Food Security in Northern Ghana: challenges and prospects” at a workshop organised by the Northern Ghana Food Security Resilience Project (NGFSRP) in Tamale Thursday September 1, 2011 that over 1.2 million Ghanaians, representing 5% of the population, are food insecure.

The publication cited Mr Yakubu as saying that about 34% of this population can be found in the Upper West region with 15% in the Upper East region and 10% in the Northern region.

He further added that 1.5 million people living in the urban and rural areas of the remaining seven regions in the country were also vulnerable to food insecurity with the largest number of them in the Brong-Ahafo Region (11%), Ashanti Region (10%) and Volta Region (7%).

Mr Sands however, believes that even though most Ghanaians are depending more on rice, “It is possible to overcome the challenge which is also an opportunity” adding “All can be done internally”.

He alluded to the fact that the purple rice produced in the Northern region is not really preferred in Accra, the nation’s capital city. The purple rice, Mr Sands says, can be exported to Nigeria where the rice is much preferred and can earn more income for the people in the North to survive during the lean season.

Mr Kwesi Ahwoi, Minister of Food Agriculture in October 2010 at the flag raising ceremony in Accra to mark the 30th World Food Day celebration on the theme: “United Against Hunger” noted that although the country is self-sufficient in the production of staple foods, it is deficient in the cultivation of cereals.

“We produce 35 per cent of our rice requirement, 90 per cent of maize. 50 per cent of our cereal requirement and 30 per cent of the raw materials needed for our agro-based industries,” the GNA citied Mr Ahwoi as saying.

The government has indicated that it is poised to produce 20,000 metric tonnes of “highest grade” quality rice by 2012 to reduce rice importation, according to Mr Fifi Kwetey, Deputy Minister of Finance and Economic Planning.

He announced this during a visit to the Fievie Rice Project in the Volta Region in June 2011.

To this end, interventions such as providing the necessary machinery and promotion of Private Public Partnership policy have been intensified to enable Ghana to increase rice production to meet the target, he says.

By Ekow Quandzie

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