Accra, Sept. 2, GNA - The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on Thursday said sub-Saharan African countries were spending more than 1.2 billion dollars annually on rice imports.
"This trend is depriving the region of scare foreign earnings that could have been used to import strategic development goods," Mr Oloche A. Edache, Assistant Director-General, FAO said in Accra.
He was speaking at a dissemination workshop on "Import Surge Study: The Case of Rice in Ghana", organised by ActionAid International. Mr Edache said rice at present constituted a critical component in the food basket of over 70 per cent of the population in West Africa. He said Ghana's rice imports alone grew from 121,000 tonnes in 1993 to 507,600 tonnes in 2002, adding, that there was the need to adopt pragmatic policies designed to move local production up. Mr Edache said there was also the need to set quality standards, improve processing and encourage consumption of locally produced rice and intra-regional trade in the commodity and phase out or reduce substantially rice imports, in order to free scare foreign exchange for development needs.
He said aside the low production population growth was an important factor to consider in seeking understanding of the export surge. "Between 1970 and 2001, while world population increased by 66 per cent, Africa's grew by nearly 130 per cent."
Mr Edache praised New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) for its initiative to promote "New Rice For Africa Varieties" saying it held great promise.
"The said statistics about the decline in agricultural production in Africa over time should not dampen our enthusiasm," he said. The Rev. Dr Samuel Asuming-Brempong, head of the Research Team of Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, University of Ghana, said local production of rice had stagnated though the local price was much higher than prices of imports of comparable grades. He said rice was a major food security crop, providing both income and food to those involved in the production.
"Unfortunately those in rice production belong mainly to the middle age group with a percentage of 49 years whilst the youth constituted only 20 per cent."
Rev. Dr Asuming-Brempong said the rice industry had been besieged by imports and required public intervention to create the enabling environment that would make local rice competitive.
"The country has the potential to produce good quality rice but present levels of investments are too low."
Rev. Dr Asuming-Brempong recommended that there was the need for local rice to be branded and a distribution system set up as an incentive to the private sector. "We need investment in good and effective advertising for local rice to enable it to compete," he said.