Accra, Sept. 28, GNA - President John Agyekum Kufuor on Tuesday stressed the importance of rice and said the security and sustainability of rice-based livelihoods was fundamental to world food security. He said increasing rice production and distribution on the continent would undoubtedly contribute to the successful implementation of the World Food Summit's Plan of action to co-ordinate global action to ensure food security.
President Kufuor said this in a speech read for him by Professor Kasim Kasanga, Minister of Environment and Science, at the opening of the Pan-African Celebration of the International Year of Rice in Accra. In December 2002, the governments of 44 countries formally requested the United Nations General Assembly to declare 2004 the International Year of Rice.
Ghana was selected to host the weeklong celebration in the African Region under the theme: "Rice is Life For Africans."
Countries participating include Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Guinea, Uganda, Senegal and Cote d'Ivoire.
President Kufuor said the world needed to focus attention on the potential role of rice in providing food security and poverty alleviation.
"Already, African leaders as part of our commitment to these goals have declared in the goals of NEPAD that agriculture should be the hub of Africa's development, as captured in the African Agricultural Development Plan a few years ago."
He said modernizing agriculture, which included the development of local rice industry, was one of the five priority areas in Ghana's Poverty Reduction Strategy.
Rice, President Kufuor said, was listed among the selected commodities to be tackled within the short-term under the Agricultural Sector Development Programme (FASDEP)
President Kufuor said the key intervention in this area included infrastructure development, appropriate technology and extension service and credit facilities to farmers to increase rice production locally to ensure food security and promote import substitution.
President Kufuor announced that the African Development Bank gave financial support to Ghana to undertake Inland Valley Rice Project to increase production of good quality rice.
The project, which would be cultivated on 4,500 hectares, seeks to increase the income of 9,000 smallholder rice producers; 150 traders and processors of rice and increase paddy rice production by 60,000 metric tons.
Major Courage Quashigah (rtd), Minister of Food and Agriculture, said rice had become the staple food for millions of Africans and was increasingly becoming important in the food equation of Sub-Sahara Africa where demand had outstripped production.
He said imports of rice into West and Central Africa were growing by six per cent per annum, which was presumed to be the fastest in the world.
Major Quashigah said for the past three years, the Ministry had been striving to increase the local production of rice and to reduce its importation by 30 per cent by the end of this year.
"So far, statistics on domestic milled rice production from 1999 to 2002 have increased from 125,000 metric tons to 168,000 metric tons. "However, this increasing trend dropped in the year 2003 to 143,000 metric tons due to bad weather."
He stressed the need for African countries to strengthen their resolve to share ideas and experiences with the hope of feeding the ever-increasing numbers of the people who had largely resorted to rice as their staple food.
Dr Patrick Monty Jones, Executive Secretary of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), who was the brain behind the development of the New Rice for Africa (NERICA), was honoured by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture for his efforts to increase rice production on the Continent.
Nigeria, Guinea, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire and Uganda were also honoured for their vision and foresight in promoting rice development. 28 Sept. 04