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23.04.2008 Business & Finance

Ghanaians asked not to grieve over food crisis

Ghanaians asked not to grieve over food crisis


The President of the Association of Ghana Industries (AGI), Mr Tony Oteng-Gyasi, has called on Ghanaians not to grieve over rising prices of commodities on the world market because the country has all it takes to reap from the benefits.

"This shouldn't be a problem for us. We have a unique one-time opportunity to develop our agricultural industry," Mr Oteng-Gyasi said at an Executive Business luncheon of the association in Accra.

He said considering the large agricultural sector in the country, replete with farmers who had, over the years lived in poverty, the sudden rise in the price of staples should be a blessing in disguise for them as they could take advantage of the situation to reap good profits.

His comments stemmed from the fact that Ghana had a vast stretch of arable land on which she could easily cultivate staples such as maize, wheat and rice to tap into the commodity price hikes.

World prices of commodities as well as staples such as rice, wheat and maize have been rising in recent times due to a multiplicity of factors including, increased world demand, poor weather conditions in some countries that has ruined crops and an increase in the use of land to grow crops for biofuels.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have said that the rapid rise in food prices could push 100 million people in poor countries deeper into poverty.

The food crisis have resulted in riots in a number of countries, including Cote d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Haiti and the Philippines.

Restrictions on rice exports have been put in place in major producing countries, including some of them from where Ghana imports rice such as India, China, Vietnam and Egypt.

"We should welcome the price increases. It is a chance for the peasant farmer and the rural poor farmer to reap some profits," he stated.

Mr Oteng-Gyasi urged his fellow entrepreneurs to take advantage of the situation to invest in agriculture, "as the returns could be bigger."

The AGI President, who is also an economist, said if one per cent of the population engages in large scale agriculture, the country would have enough to eat and export.

Mr John Awuni, the Director, Corporate Affairs, of Continental Commodity Trading Company (CCTC), a subsidiary of the Finatrade Group, said the effect of the rise in the prices of staples had started in Ghana, which is not an island in the world.

"Worse affected has been the price of bread flour, which has more than doubled in the last couple of months," he told the Daily Graphic.

He said the prices of maize and rice had also gone up above 50 per cent, leading to smuggling from neighbouring countries such as Cote d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Benin, which had waived import duties on the staples since the crisis.

"If the smuggling is not controlled it can lead to losses of revenue to the government since the windfall will go into private pockets and not come to the formal commodity trading companies which pay taxes," he noted.

Mr Awuni added his voice to that of Mr Oteng-Gyasi, the World Bank and IMF, calling for investments in agriculture with immediate effect, saying "it is time to take agriculture seriously.”

He said the country should either embark upon consistent agricultural policies leading to a move away from rain-fed, subsistence and outmoded ways of farming or waive duties on imported staple so as to lower prices and discourage smuggling.

Saudi Arabia has cut import taxes on a number of food products, with duties on wheat being zero-rated.

India has also waived tariffs on edible oil and maize and has banned exports of all rice except the high-value basmati variety.

Mr Awuni said in the medium term Ghana could go in for the less capital intensive and simple irrigation technology to boost agriculture.

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