After months of agitation without any positive response from the government, rice farmers in Ghana have taken the struggle to the streets of Accra with a peaceful demonstration.
They are asking the government to intervene to promote rice production in Ghana.
The farmers are also calling on the government to give more support to local rice farmers in terms of input and subsidies, discourage the influx of foreign rice onto the local market and promote the marketing and consumption of local rice.
They carried placards, wore red bands and with a strong commitment to the cause of promoting local rice, hundreds of young and old rice farmers from the Greater Accra, Ashanti, Volta, Northern and Upper East regions marched through the Ministries area amidst singing and chanting to present a list of demands to the government.
“We are committed, we are determined to use all legal means to fight for our demands,” the General Secretary of the General Agriculture Workers Union (GAWU), Mr Kingsley Ofei-Nkansah, stated when he led the demonstrators to present copies of their listed concerns to the Ministries of Trade, Industry, Private Sector Development and President's Special Initiatives; Food and Agriculture and Finance and Economic Planning.
The concerns were captured in a resolution passed by the Rice Farmers Division of GAWU at its first national conference in Accra Monday.
The resolution called on the government to create a rice development fund, get rid of trade policies that did not favour small-scale farmers, support rice farmers with high-yielding varieties to improve the quantity and quality of local rice, involve farmers in government policies, help provide rice mills, storage facilities and credit for farmers and help provide irrigation and input for farmers.
In recent times GAWU has increased pressure on the government to address the numerous challenges facing the local rice industry, particularly the influx of foreign rice, which the local rice farmers claim is pushing them out of business.
Last month, GAWU launched a television documentary dubbed, Dilemma of the Ghanaian Rice Farmer, to highlight some of the hardships being faced by local rice farmers and demanded an appropriate and timely policy direction from the government to address the situation.
Yesterday's demonstration was another step by GAWU to keep the heat on the government.
The high prices of inputs, irregular and inadequate supply of fertilisers through an ineffective coupon system and the lack of market for produce were some of the concerns underlined by the rice farmers.
The messages of the demonstrators were clearly captured on their placards — “Eating local rice creates more jobs”, “We need help from the government”, “Developed and developing farmers, who need subsidies?”, “For a better Ghana, GDP growth, eat local rice” and “We demand reduction in importation of rice”.
They initially converged at the forecourt of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) for a brief rally before hitting the streets amidst brass band music and under the guidance of a four-member police escort.
When the demonstrators got to the Cedi House and the Ministries Traffic Light Intersection, they sat in the middle of the road for about a minute before continuing the march, which was joined by some pineapple and cassava farmers for purposes of solidarity.
Mr Ofei-Nkansah said the group would continue with its agitation until their concerns were addressed.
He was optimistic that a lot could be done for the rice industry and that was why it was determined to indulge the government to make good policies and translate them into action.
He urged the government to work towards reducing the influx of imported rice on the local market, adding that it did not make sense to import the greater part of the food consumed by the nation.
Making reference to the Ghana Living Standard Survey (GLSS), he said it was unfortunate that the most hungry people in the country were those who produced food to feed the nation.
“We object to this. We want to fight against that and we will mobilise all farmers in the country to demonstrate against that,” Mr Ofei-Nkansah said.
At the Trade Ministry, the sector Minister, Papa Owusu-Ankomah, received the resolution and promised the farmers that the government would pay attention to the issues raised.
He, however, said the government had been committed to improving agriculture, including rice farming, citing the rehabilitation of irrigation schemes across the country.
At the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, the Chief Director, Nana Juaben Siriboe, pledged to the demonstrators that their concerns would be addressed.
Director of Finance and Administration at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Mr Alidu Fuseini, who received the resolution, promised to present it to the sector minister for the necessary action to be taken on it.
Story by Kofi Yeboah