Ghana’s Rice Dependency and Global Trade Risks: Exploring Beyond the Bowl
Ghana jollof, ‘plain rice’, ‘Angwamu’, waakye and the special Sunday ‘Omotuo’ all have one thing in common. You guessed right, rice, the darling food.
Ghanaians eat rice on virtually every occasion. Birthdays? Rice! Weddings? Rice! Christmas? Rice! Even funerals? Yes, rice again! The intimate relationship between Ghana and rice mirrors that of Romeo and Juliet.
Rice has taken center stage in the kitchens of many Ghanaian households, becoming an indispensable culinary companion cherished for its convenience in cooking and its role in creating a delightful array of dishes. Delicious!
According to IDH Sustainable Trade, the rice-loving nation consumes about 1.5 million metric tonnes of rice per year. Think of 54,000 40ft containers of rice. Yes, that is how much rice Ghanaians consume per year!
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Feeding home from abroad
Of this quantity, approximately 950,000 metric tonnes are brought in from abroad, accounting for roughly 60% of the overall consumption, as reported by both the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) and Knoema.
In 2021, Ghana spent $552M on rice importation, becoming the 13th largest importer of Rice in the world, bringing home 1.9% of the total world imports. The same year, Rice was the 3rd most imported product in Ghana only behind cars and petroleum products.
The country’s rice imports come in mainly from Vietnam, Thailand, India, China and Pakistan.
The Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) in their 2020 rice market report highlighted that the persistent rise in rice imports can be attributed to the domestic rice production’s inability to satisfy the country’s demand.
According to the MoFA, Ghana currently produces around 963,000 metric tons of paddy rice equivalent to 650,000 metric tons of milled rice. This is just about 40% of the national demand. In other words, the locally-produced rice is insufficient to reduce the country’s reliance on rice imports.
The challenges according to the Deputy Minister of Agriculture in charge of crops, Yaw Frimpong Addo, lie in upholding quality standards to enhance the competitiveness of domestic rice production.
The lack of adequate processing facilities and modern milling machines, an insufficient number of silos for paddy storage before milling, and the absence of comprehensive quality testing procedures for both rice seed (paddy) and milled rice all further complicate the issue.
The country is in a very vulnerable position considering that about 90% of the rice imports come from just 3 countries. This means that even minimal shocks to the supply of rice from any of these countries has the potential to adversely affect the rice market in Ghana, driving up prices.
It is not too surprising that a recent Ghana Statistical Services report hinted trade vulnerability of the economy as a whole. The report suggests that both import and export destinations are limited, exposing the country to external shocks.
Shocks from overseas
India, which ranks as the third-largest import destination for Ghana, recently implemented a 20% duty on parboiled rice exports, effective from August 25th to October 15th, 2023. This policy shift compelled traders to defer shipments of 500,000 metric tons of rice until mid-October to avoid the associated tax.
Consequently, Ghana was faced with the prospect of reduced rice supply, a development that almost certainly exerts upward pressure on prices. Experts have identified Ghana, as anticipated, as one of the major importers likely to be adversely affected by these shipment delays.
In August this year, the rice price index of the United Nations’ food agency surged by 9.8% compared to July, marking its highest level in 15 years. This price escalation could be tied to robust demand coupled with India’s decision to restrict rice exports.
Meanwhile, Thailand is also grappling with a water shortage, which is anticipated to result in a decline in rice supply and, consequently, an increase in prices. According to Thailand’s Office of the National Water Resources, rainfall has fallen 18% below the average, with crucial water storage reservoirs only at approximately 54% of their total capacity.
Somporn, a senior fellow at the Knowledge Network Institute of Thailand, has estimated that rice production is poised to decrease by about 30% over the next two seasons due to this water scarcity. Somporn has further cautioned that this could result in prices doubling or even tripling compared to most years.
Rice production has been a national agenda over the years. With various strategic polices aimed at increasing the capacity of rice production. The most prominent of the policy interventions Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ), launched in 2017, prioritizes rice, among several other crops, and has been credited for growth in rice output in recent years. The program subsidizes 50 percent of the cost of fertilizer and rice seed. It is estimated that PFJ-supplied seed was used on between 30 and 50 percent of rice lands in 2019.
Other policies such as the National Rice Development Strategy (NRDS) 2008-2018 and 2018-2030 formulated through the Coalition for Africa Rice Development (CARD), aimed at increasing the capacity of the rice value chains and ensuring their resilience. Its ultimate goal is to achieve rice self-sufficiency by 2024, which clearly is almost impossible given the current level of sufficiency.
The Medium Term Agricultural Sector Investment Plan (METASIP II) (2014-2017), the Continental Investment Plan for accelerating Rice Self-Sufficiency in Africa (CIPRiSSA) (2018-2025), and the Ghana CARES programme which focused on increasing production and productivity in the rice sub-sector through partnering with interested private sector actors to cultivate more rice, are all reported to have contributed to increasing rice production.
Self-sufficiency still appears, however, to be in the distant future. In the interim, government, along with private traders, needs to diversify rice import destinations to protect the country from vulnerabilities while intensifying import substitution efforts for Ghana’s beloved rice.