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Business News Thu, 31 Aug 2006

Government working to secure financial support for rice farmers

Accra, Aug. 31, GNA - Mr. Ernest Debrah, Minister of Food and Agriculture, said on Thursday that government was in discussion with various financial institutions to secure low cost credit for local rice farmers to boost production.


Currently, the Agricultural Development Bank provides the necessary financial support to some cooperatives to cultivate the crop. "Government will not pursue policies that are inimical to the growth and development of the country but rather encourage the growth of local agriculture industries," Mr. Debrah told local rice farmers who called at the Ministry to present a petition to him after going on a procession to draw attention to the negative effect of unbridled trade liberalization on local rice production.


The farmers under the umbrella of the Ghana Trade and Livelihood Coalition (GTLC), a nationwide advocacy organization of small-scale farmers and producers, marched through the principal streets of Accra to the Ministries and Parliament House.


They later presented a petition to the Ministries of Trade and Industry, Finance and Economic Planning and Parliament. Mr. Debrah said in line with government commitment, all agricultural implements were being allowed into the country free of duty to make them affordable for the farmers.


There are also plans to support the various cooperatives with tractors and threshing equipment to enhance the cultivation and improve on quality of produce.

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He asked the farmers to increase their productivity so as to lower their cost of production to enable them become competitive. Mr Gideon Martey, President of the Osudoku Agric. Cooperative Society Limited in the Dangbe West District, said the absence of ready market for their produce was the major threat to their livelihood. He said farmers feared losing the financial support they had enjoyed from the ADB because of stockpile of paddy rice, which had been left unsold since September last year.


Over 80,000 maxi bags (50kg) of paddy rice are currently locked up in warehouses because of the inability of farmers to find buyers, he said. Under the current arrangement the banks provide the farmers with funds for cultivation and sale of the produce to defray the loan granted to the cooperative.


As a first step, he suggested the promotion of local rice consumption through the School Feeding Programme to provide farmers a marketing avenue to save the industry from collapse. In their petition, the farmers stressed the need for the Government to consider the reintroduction of tariffs and non-tariff measures to protect local rice producers.


They called for the imposition of an additional 10 per cent tariff on imported rice for a period of between five and 10 years to generate proceeds to be invested into the development of the rice sector and support the creation of the proposed Agriculture Fund. They also asked for a reduction in the high level of rice imports which was inimical to the development of the Local Rice Industry (LRI). There was also a call on government and Parliament to stop supporting and protecting the interests of other countries' farmers to the detriment of the local farmers.


"The government and Parliament must stop creating excuses to explain why farmers cannot be supported and look at reasons why and how it must be done," the farmers said.

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Mr Ibrahim Akalbila, Interim Coordinator of Ghana Trade and Livelihoods Coalition (GTLC), said the Coalition is launching a three-year campaign to mobilise farmers and other groups to impress on government to adopt proactive policies in the interest of the local rice producers.


Mr. Akalbila called on the government to encourage farmers, promote their activities and to initiate and implement policies to improve their livelihood.


He noted that if local rice farmers were given the necessary support, they could produce enough to feed the country.


Some of the placards borne by the farmers read: "Stop the Dumping of Rice Into Ghana", "Ghanaians Deserve Better Nutrition'" "Eat Ghanaian Rice", among others.

Source: GNA