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Business Features of Wednesday, 25 January 2023

Source: Nana Oye Ankrah, Contributor

Ghana's rice revolution is on the horizon, but will it ever be more than just a pipe dream?

File photo of rice File photo of rice

Thirty-seven-year-old Beatrice Godard’s two children eat rice meal every day. All efforts to get them to switch, even once a week, to other Ghanaian dishes not made of rice – such as banku or fufu – have proved futile.

To feed her kids, husband and niece, Beatrice is obliged to cook 5 kilograms of rice per week.

“My favourites are the Gino and Lele brands of rice, which are both imported. They are scented and taste very nice,” Beatrice says with a grin.

“Jasmine, another brand, brought in from the USA, is also very nice, but I hardly go in for that due to the exchange rate – you know how the cedi has been struggling against the dollar in recent months.

“But my children don’t really care, so long as the rice they’re served is white and they can perceive the perfume.”

The situation in Beatrice’s family isn’t unusual. There is a growing preference for rice among Ghanaian households, especially as consumers become richer and more urbanised.

It hasn’t always been that way, though.

The luxury of rice

Before the mid-1990s, people went for staples such as fufu, ampesi or kenkey, which were rather affordable and far more widely accessible.

In most homes, rice was prized as a treat, served only on special occasions and during festivities such as Christmas. Even so, only affluent families could afford the luxury of eating rice regularly whenever the holidays came around.

Perhaps because Ghanaians were consuming so little of it at the time, not much rice was being imported. According to, a trade analysis website, Ghana imported approximately 24,000 metric tonnes of rice in 1971.

Fifty-two years later, the average annual rate of rice imports stands at 12.53%. As of 2020, according to data from the Observatory of Economic Complexity, 950,000 metric tonnes of rice were brought into the country, valued at US$391 million in total – US$282 million from Vietnam, US$45.5 million from Thailand, US$27.3 million from India, US$20.6 million from Pakistan and US$5.95 million from China.

The demand for rice, quite clearly, has skyrocketed over the past decade and is now growing rapidly at 5% per annum. Total rice consumption in 2020 amounted to roughly 1.45 million metric tonnes, which is equivalent to per capita consumption of about 45 kilograms per annum, and this is expected to increase sharply by 2030.

The heavy dependence on rice imports is now causing heightened concern about foreign exchange imbalances and vulnerability to international rice price shocks. At present, the government makes available over $1 billion in forex annually to meet the demand for rice imports, but the current weakness of Ghana’s economy has rendered such levels of spending unsustainable.

The most feasible way around the problem is to boost local production of the cereal, a practice that only began in the 1990s. But there are challenges throughout the value chain, from farming to milling, to storage, packaging and sales. Overcoming these challenges would require large financial investment, yes, but the long-term gains would doubtless be worth it.

Experts have identified and listed areas in Ghana’s Eastern, Oti, Volta and Northern Regions as places where rice cultivation could flourish. However, although we have all that land, very little of it has been cultivated by the country’s 250,000 rice farmers.

Most of those farmers cultivate meagre spaces of between two and five acres of land, and only about 8% of the rice-farmer population work on areas of between 200 and 3,000 acres.

A hectare of land (equivalent to roughly 2.5 acres) can produce between eight and 12 metric tonnes of rice, depending on the age of the soil, but typical Ghanaian rice farmers are able to produce only between 4.5 and 5 metric tonnes from the same size of land – far below the optimum, you will agree.

Together, these farmers are able to cultivate much but get only 40% of the roughly 1.2 million metric tonnes they produce (400,000 metric tonnes). A fraction of the remainder is sold in its raw state to neighbouring countries at cheaper prices.

Some of it is also parboiled, which inevitably lowers the price significantly, as most Ghanaians – unlike, say, Nigerians – don’t quite like their rice prepared that way. The rest goes bad and is written off as a loss altogether.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) collected between 2008 and 2020, paddy rice production was in the range of 302,000 and 987,000 metric tonnes, equivalent to between 181,000 and 622,000 metric tonnes of milled rice.

“Last year, we were able to reach 950,000 metric tonnes,” Owusu Afriyie Akoto, the immediate past agriculture minister, said some time in 2022.

“This year, we’re targeting 1.1 million, and we know that by 2023 we’ll meet the target of 1.2 million.”

Pure talk, less action

But ask Yaw Adu-Poku, convenor of the Ghana Rice Millers Association, and he will tell you those projections are, at best, hopeful.

“As we are talking now, if I tell you that in 2025 we will be producing enough, then I am not telling you the truth,” he opines.

“The structures that we need to put in place are still not there. If those structures are there, I can assure you that in 2024 we may even reach 80%. And in 2025, we may pass the 105% mark. So, all of this is purely talk and little more.”

And even if, by dint of good fortune, Ghana does hit those targets, Adu-Poku, an expert in the milling business, still sees obstacles beyond the production stage.

“Ghana cannot place a value on its locally produced rice due to a lack of machinery, storage, and milling capacity, and so even if the production reaches two million metric tonnes per annum, not all of that can be milled.”

Those challenges exist regardless, and a bump would be very helpful as domestic production continues to fall short of demand, with the share of imported rice consumed still pegged above 50%.

The country’s rice self-sufficiency ratio, as revealed by Agriculture Research for Sustainable Development, declined from 38% in 1999 to 24% in 2006 and then increased to about 43% in 2020.

The realisation of Afriyie Akoto’s projected numbers, however, will not, in and of itself, alter the rice-savouring choices of many ordinary Ghanaians.

“Well,” Akweley Nyangtakyi, a resident of Accra, says, “my preference for imported rice will take a long time to change, because of what I regard as its superior quality. That said, I do buy local rice occasionally, and if that is all the market has to offer, why not?

“I would have no choice but to teach my family to like it, though it will probably take a long time – a decade, maybe? – to do that. Preference comes with pricing, too, so if the prices of local rice make that easier on the pocket, I wouldn’t mind.”

Expanding on the point about availability, Nyangtakyi explains: “Sometimes you stumble upon a specific brand of local rice, cook it, eat it, and like it. Yet when you have to restock the same brand, you scarcely find it easily available. You’d have to search several markets for it – if at all you do find it.”

Then there is the other issue Nyangtakyi raises: cost.

The average price of a five-kilogram bag of imported Jasmine rice is GHC90, while the same quantity of locally produced rice sells at GHC120. Blame for that, though, is not accepted by the farmers interviewed for this piece.

“At the moment, if you are going to use a tractor to prepare your land, you should not have less than GHC600 for an acre. And when it is ready for harvesting, you pay another GHC600 to rent a combine harvester to harvest the grains. If you are able to maintain your farm well, an acre should give you 14 to 15 25-kilogram bags of rice, but we are unable to get that,” Senyalah Castro, a rice farmer in Northern Ghana, explains.

“And so, I will bank all my hopes of making a decent profit on the quantity I could mill, which naturally explains why that would cost much more on the market. The mills out there are simply inadequate,” he adds, echoing Adu-Poku’s point with that last line. More on that subject a little later.

Another farmer says: “We are not able to recoup our investments due to the farming practices generally in use at present, and also because efforts are generally lackadaisical. To compensate for that, farmers tend to overprice rice.”

And, truly, the farming practices are crude, lacking the sort of innovation and mechanisation that would guarantee a bumper crop. Very few of these small-scale farmers, for instance, can afford simple harvesters, as a visit to some farms in the Volta Region revealed.

There, we found farmers using old-fashioned sickles to harvest the crop. Inevitably, some of the grains drop on to the ground, and, while picking them up, the farmers unwittingly collect sand particles and gravel along with the rice, some of which ends up being bagged together with the final product – just one more reason why local rice, even among enthusiasts, tends to be such a hard sell.

It is quite apparent, too, that farmers will need additional support to produce the right tonnage in order to make home-grown rice affordable on the market.

In rural Northern Ghana, where rice is grown intensively, access to fertiliser is a major problem. And even when it is available, it is very expensive.

A bag of Yara fertiliser, the most popular brand on the market, sells for GHC560, and seven of those are required for an acre of farmed rice, which adds up to GHC3,920.

“If you multiply the GHC560 by seven bags, you can imagine. And sometimes when you harvest, the quantity will shock you because you will not get 250 kilograms of rice from the farm,” Castro said.

The milling industry will also need huge investment to improve. On average, a rice mill produces only three metric tonnes an hour and works ten hours per day, adding up to 30 metric tonnes of rice per day. That pace of work and rate of output simply cannot keep up with the appetite of Ghana’s 32 million people, many of whom live by the “rice or nothing” mantra.

“Ghana rice” campaign

On 6 December 2019, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, President of the Republic, launched a campaign aimed at encouraging the consumption of locally produced rice – “Ghana Rice”, as it is widely known – when he addressed the 35th Farmers’ Day celebration in Ho, the capital of the Volta Region.

“We must eat what we grow to motivate our farmers and support the development of the local food industry,” the president said. “Indeed, Rebecca, my beautiful wife, our First Lady, insists that we eat local rice at home and has made sure of it. “I call on all Ghanaians to follow my example and eat local rice.”

According to Akufo-Addo, “The success of the government’s efforts at ensuring self-sufficiency in rice production depends largely on the level of consumption of local rice.”

The country is beginning to explore prospects for increasing local production in a “killing two birds with one stone” scenario: reduce the importation of rice to help stabilise the cedi and ultimately make Ghana a rice exporter by 2025.

That Ghana hasn’t already attained that status is – as Ken Ofori-Atta, the Finance Minister, admits – a shame.

“Since 2017, we’ve spent over a million dollars importing rice,” he laments. “What’s more embarrassing is that a country like Ukraine exports about 74 million tonnes of grains despite current conflicts, and you wonder why Ghana and Africa have fallen asleep.”

Ofori-Atta, in response, appears to be driving the local rice production agenda. One of the agencies on his watch, the Bank of Ghana, has stopped providing forex for importation of rice. The reasoning for this move, which he shares, is sound.

“It’s actually quite criminal for the country to continue to import rice while we’re endowed with arable lands, water and favourable weather conditions for growing crops to mitigate any possible food crisis,” he says.

Ofori-Atta is confident that the Ghana CARES/Obaatan Pa programme, a critical initiative by the current government, will provide the support needed for production of rice. He also believes that Development Bank Ghana, which was licensed in 2021, will provide additional financial support to rice farmers and millers.

There is still great work to be done to drive food security in Ghana in the coming years, especially as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that the acute food insecurity many countries are experiencing following the Russian-Ukraine war will become worse globally in 2023.


Another big push the government could give the rice industry is to introduce incentives that would attract investors from the private sector. This could push up the quantity of Ghanaian-grown and Ghanaian-milled rice from 40% to roughly 80% of stocks and, in turn, push the price of local rice on the market below that of imported rice.

That we have the capacity to produce the same quality of rice as that imported from better-established rice-growing nations is not in doubt, and I know this from personal experience.

Some of the local brands I have seen on the market and bought to try at home – the likes of Nana Rice and Evivi Rice – taste as good as some of the imported ones. Not even my three children, who are connoisseurs of sorts when it comes to rice, could tell the difference.

Developing that potential and scaling up production will require lots of work, though, not lip-service or sloganeering. Increased productivity will be the reward for adopting a fully multi-sectoral approach and forging strong public-private partnerships.

To battle the hundreds of importers and distributors across the country who really control the rice trade and have a vested interest in keeping the rice business the way it is, the quality of agricultural extension support services must improve. Farmers will need subsidised inputs. Farming will have to become more mechanised. We will need bigger-capacity millers with more sophisticated machines; we will need more warehouses; there will have to be a direct government intervention to subsidise the price of rice to pose a serious challenge to imported brands.

Throw in demonstrations of commitment and sacrifice by all stakeholders – including consumers, such as Beatrice’s children, Akweley’s and mine – and we will ensure the expectations of Messrs Akufo-Addo, Afriyie Akoto and Ofori-Atta do not go unfulfilled.