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Opinions of Friday, 5 April 2019


The dollar on the ‘Rice’: We’re all responsible for the cedi fall

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When I heard the Minister of Finance Ken Ofori-Atta tell parliament on Thursday, 28 March 2019 that, “Mr Speaker, the President has directed that I investigate the structural causes for the depreciation of the cedi and to propose measures to address the situation. The Governor and I will put a bipartisan committee together to proceed immediately”, I felt nauseous and without deep thoughts, I coughed out these words in frustration “there is no future”.

My editor who was sitting beside me laughed and shook his head. For someone who has always had a positive mindset and believes that the future holds something positive, the last words I expected from my mouth were those. But it happened. I had to breathe in and out for some time, I think I’m fine now and I can move on to write this piece to express my shock and utmost disappointment in the government that touts itself as the best mangers of the economy.

For the start, both the NDC and NPP have built a consensus on the high import rate as against the export rate as the cause of the depreciation of the cedi. I have heard members of both political divides admit this fact. It is the second factor that has achieved a national consensus for me aside from the creation of new regions.

Rate of Food Import

Food imports cost the nation an average of $2.4 billion each year. This means that about GHS12.9 billion (one dollar to GHS5.37) is used to import rice, sugar, sorghum, frozen chicken and meat, among other food items, for consumption on annual basis. Out of this amount, Ghana spends more than $1 billion on rice alone. Yes, Rice! I’m wondering the time Ghanaians turned into Chinese without me noticing. What happened to our kenkey, fufu and akple and all the other sumptuous meals?

The Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, Robert Ahomka Lindsay disclosed last year that Ghana imported rice worth $1.1 billion in 2017. According to him, rice importation “takes 82% of all imports into the country”. Mr Lindsay said, the leading product imported into Ghana every year from Vietnam is rice, which is by far the largest contributor to the import quota. He strongly believed it was about time Ghana added value to its raw materials for exports in order to gain more from the resources of the country.

This point was reiterated by the Minister for Food and Agriculture Dr Afriyie Akoto. These are our leaders talking. They clearly know the causes, the effects and the solutions but of course, we need a bipartisan committee to investigate how and why the cedi is falling.

Now I can understand if Ghana imports cars, excavators and the likes into the country. Yes, it is pardonable to say Ghana is not technologically advanced to be able to manufacture such sophisticated gadgets but it is highly unacceptable for Ghana to import rice despite the fertile land we have as a country. It is totally obnoxious.

As we blame the government for not putting in place the right policies, let’s blame ourselves for not doing our part as citizens.

Ghanaians including myself behave like a married man with a beautiful, intelligent, hardworking and mature wife every man is dying for but rather finds pleasure in an uneducated, lazy slay queen who only flaunts herself on social media and struggles to make meaning out of very simple life puzzles. The popular question will be ‘what does he see in her?’ because it never makes sense.

This is the story of Ghana. Our strong taste for foreign goods is unthinkable. And that strong taste has led to the high import rate we are dealing with today.

If you’ve ever tasted the rice grown in Ghana (Asante mo, eserem mo) whether the brown or even the white rice you would realise that it is naturally nice scented, delicious and most importantly nutritious. But we prefer the polished ones which have lost its nutrients to machines.

Brown rice contains all parts of the grain: bran (full of fiber), germ, and endosperm (which is rich in carbohydrates), it’s considered a whole grain.

Research shows that whole grain foods can reduce cholesterol and lower the risk of stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, making it a healthy option. That is the kind of rice grown in Ghana but we like the polished ones and for some reason, we are made to believe they are delicious and ‘perfumed’. We have the quality, what we need is proper packaging and a policy to produce more to feed ourselves and other countries.

The government claims that no single grain of maize was imported last year due to the implementation of its flagship ‘planting for food and jobs’. This needs commendation. But what about rice? Imagine the amount of money Ghana will save if it is able to stop rice importation.

The way to go

The government must encourage and invest in local farmers to produce quality rice that would compete with international brands. Once we get the farmers producing more and factories processing them, they will definitely need human resource and that is where employment comes in. Our challenge of unemployment will be tackled and instead of importers demanding dollars to import foreign goods, we will rather ‘demand’ our cedis.

It is my prayer and wish that the one-district-one-factory policy of the Akufo-Addo government succeeds so that we can add value and package well our foods not just rice, but all others that can be produced here. Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari made that commitment years back, and they were able to save close to $5 million daily. If there is a political will, there is surely a way.

The government has to do its part by formulating and implementing the right policies and we the citizens have a duty to promote our own by buying, eating and enjoying what we produce. It’s a collective effort. We need to #operationfeedourselves. If we are able to do this, why will we need a bi-partisan committee to probe the fall of the cedi?

A word to the wise is enough.

By: Gemma Appiah

The writer is a broadcast journalist and news anchor with Class91.3FM, Accra.

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