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Ghana's Rice Farmers Might Benefit From COVID Pandemic

FILE - Women sweep rice at a small processing plant in the northern Ghanaian town of Bolgatanga, Feb. 1, 2008.

Rice plays a huge role in diets in Ghana, from the famous West African jollof rice to rice and stew - but most of these grains are imported.

In 2019, Ghana launched Eat Ghana Rice, a campaign aimed at supporting the local rice industry, but imports still dominate.

Demand for local rice has been on the increase in Ghana as a result of the campaign. But in markets across the West African nation, imported brands still dominate.

Rice industry insiders say locally grown grain may soon see a boost from an unexpected supporter: the coronavirus pandemic.

With COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, some nations have temporarily banned exports of the grain to ensure food security.

The Importers and Exporters Association of Ghana says the bans have sent imported rice prices soaring.

Samson Asaki Awingobit, the association’s executive secretary, said “During the lockdown period, we saw that imported rice prices had gone high, so it has affected the Ghanaian consumers. Of course, the cost of rice has gone up.”

Awingobit said the high prices are making local rice more competitive, which could boost Ghana’s rice production and food security.

Rice experts say the average Ghanaian eats about 40 kilograms of rice per year and Ghana’s farmers meet about half the country’s demand.

Aiming for self-sufficiency

Rice breeder Maxwell Darko Asante says the gap, and supply disruptions from the coronavirus pandemic, show why more investment is needed in local rice.

“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,” Asante said.

Since 2017, Ghana has strengthened local food production through its Planting for Food and Jobs program.

The program supplies subsidized rice seeds and fertilizer to Ghana’s farmers to boost agriculture and food security.

Ghanaian officials say the program is helping meet their target of boosting rice production to self-sufficiency by 2023.

For the past decade, rice farmer Abena Abedi has worked with small-holder farmers to promote Ghana’s rice. She supports their planting and then buys, processes, packages, and markets the local grain.

“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,” she said.

Abedi said a jump in demand for local rice after last year’s Eat Ghana Rice campaign proves the market potential.

While the coronavirus pandemic has been disruptive, she said she hopes the outbreak will inspire more support for rice farmers across Ghana as a buffer against food insecurity and a boost to the local industry.