The Minister of Food and Agriculture, Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto, has said he is unhappy that the country spends almost half the equivalent of cocoa proceeds to import rice, and that he is determined to stop it with a number of interventions.

“Our food import bill is very scary in terms of quantity and value. We spent US$2.2billion in 2015 importing 8 food items that can be produced by our farmers in Ghana.

“We are using almost half of our total cocoa proceeds to import rice into this country – and that is even an understatement, because these are statistics from the two ports of Tema and Takoradi.

The amount of rice smuggled into this country from the Port of San Pedro in Ivory Coast is not even counted, and that could be as much as the official statistic,” Dr. Afriyie Akoto said at the Meet the Press series in Accra.

While the country remains the world’s second-largest cocoa producer, it imports more than two-thirds of the staples such as poultry, wheat, sugar and rice that it needs, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

For instance, Ghana is said to be spending about US$600million every year to import rice – a grain that can be grown in all parts of the country.

“It is really scary that we have lands which can feed the whole of West Africa, yet we are spending half of our major export proceeds on importing rice alone. It is a disaster, but we are determined to stop that,” the minister added.

As part of measures which cover the agriculture sector generally, the ministry, he said, is recruiting some 2,700 Agriculture Extension Agents and using government procurement to supply locally produced food to Senior High Schools.

The National Buffer Stock Company, he said, will also be revamped while biometric registration of farmers, as well as increasing the scope and coverage of the Planting for Food and Jobs programme, will be carried out.

Others are the construction of 80 warehouses of 1,000MT storage capacity each, and rehabilitation of six seed-processing centres in 2018, among many others.

“Our objective is to reach double-digit annual growth in agriculture during the period that we have been given by the people of Ghana,” he said.

“In 2017, because of PFJ, the provisional rate of growth was more than 8 percent, and I am hoping that this year we will hit around 10 to 11 percent,” Dr. Afriyie Akoto added during the encounter with the press to discuss the Agric sector’s performance over the last one and half years.