Rice has become the second staple food consumed in Ghana after maize. Rice production in Ghana increased from 48,800 tonnes in 1970 to 925,000 tonnes in 2019 growing at an average annual rate of 9.03%. (Ministry of Food and Agriculture, 2020). This depicts high potential of growth and production in the domestic rice sector in the country.
Inspite of its consumability and potential to boost the economic prospect of the country, rice remains the food crop which the country is food insecure with consumption exceeding domestic production. To augment domestic consumption, the country imports about 66% of rice mainly from Thailand, Vietnam and India.
According to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, the country imported U$8 billion worth of rice in 2020 to augment deficit in domestic consumption. This practice does not only negatively affect actors in the rice production value chain domestically but also contract the economic activities of the country while creating jobs and making other economies viable and prosperous. The continuous importation of rice will continue to weaken our domestic currency since importers must buy the US dollar to be able to import. The excessive demand for other people’s currency only renders yours valueless and meaningless.
In order to deal with the practice, the government through the Ministry of Food and Agriculture is advocating strongly for the consumption of local rice, as it works to ban the importation of foreign rice by 2022.
To ensure the realization of this directive, government has made some considerable interventions in the agriculture sector which has resulted in increased production of rice over the years. In 2017, the Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ) programme was introduced which requires that farmers pay 50% of the cost of rice seed and fertilizer making it affordable for producers to increase rice production. Under the programme, the subsidized price of a 20kg bag of rice seed is GH¢50.00; the cost of 50kg fertilizers such as NPK 15:15:15, Sulphate of Ammonia and Urea are GH57.50, GH¢60.00 and GH¢47.50 respectively. It is also embarking on the development of rice valleys and irrigation projects across rice producing communities in the country. Rice continues to be grown at the subsistence level under primarily rain fed conditions in the valleys or low lying areas and often employs traditional methods with limited irrigation and mechanization facilities.
Rice is cultivated throughout all the regions of the country. However, the top five production regions are the Volta, Northern, Upper East, Ashanti, and Western. The primary growing seasons are April/May for planting and July/August for harvesting in the case of the Volta, Ashanti and Eastern regions. In the Northern and Upper East regions, farmers will typically cultivate in July/August and harvest in October/November.
There are several challenges facing rice farmers in the northern part of Ghana. However, this article specifically looks at the challenges rice farmers in the Builsa South District of the Upper East region face in accessing combine harvesters to harvest their rice produce. The district has comparative advantage in rice production. It has 2,286 hectares of developed area for rice cultivation. This comprised of 866.4 hectors developed by the government and the remaining 1,419.6 hectares developed by individual farmers. The government is currently developing 300 hectors and 500 hectares at Tuedema and Gbedembilisi respectively. The potential production capacity of the district stands at 4,700 hectors.
Rice production in the district increase from 80,000 metric tonnes to 110,000 metric tonnes in 2019 and 2020 respectively (District Department of Agriculture, 2020). This shows huge potential in rice production in the district and requires the needed attention.
Despite the vast potential and government’s investment in rice production in the district to reduce the country’s huge rice import bill, farmers in the Builsa South District continue to lose significant proportion of their rice produce to bushfires due to labour scarcity and inadequate combine harvesters to timely and efficiently harvest the produce from the field.
An average of 370 acres of rice farms are destroyed by bushfires annually across the district. This has led to the loss of over One Million Ghana Cedis (GH¢1,000,000.00) annually. Those who are often the hardest hit are the smallholder farmers who rely on the limited manual labour force to harvest their produce due to the inadequate number of combine harvesters in the district. It is estimated that if the trend continues, the district will lose over Five Million Ghana Cedis (GH¢5,000,000.00) by the end of 2025. This will eventually compound the existing poverty situation of the people in the district and lower their standard of living since many people in the area are often engaged in the rice production value chain.
Rice can be harvested manually or mechanically. The manual process is concerned with cutting the crop using hand tools such as knives and sickles. This method of harvesting is often laborious and has significant cost implication to the smallholder farmer. Rice harvesting is often the process of collecting rice that has matured from the field. Most often, rice is ready for harvesting between 105 to 150 days after it has been cultivated. The activities of harvesting manually involve cutting, handling, staking, cleaning, threshing and hauling the harvested crop. The method used in harvesting determines grain yield and the level of damage on the grain. On the other, the mechanical way of harvesting involves the use of combine harvesters. It is a technology that combines harvesting, threshing, cleaning and in some instances, bagging in one operation.
To deal with the perennial bushfires that ravage rice farms across the district, there is the urgent need for the provision of adequate combine harvesters to ensure timely and efficient harvesting of rice produce in the district.
The combine harvesters that operate in the district during harvesting seasons are often owned and operated by private individuals. They are usually limited in their numbers and are given out to farmers at exorbitant fees to harvest their rice or lose their produce to bushfires. Farmers will also have to sleep in their rice farms to protect their rice produce from bushfires. Due to the delay in harvesting, acres of farm lands and rice grains are lost each year to bushfires.
This phenomenon is discouraging several youths from venturing into rice farming and seeing it as a business venture that is capable of improving their living standards. The evidences of the loss of other people’s investment are available for them to see hence their lack of interest in the venture.
Timely harvesting of rice is very important as delayed harvesting often leads to a considerable loss of grain due to over maturity. Scarcity of farm labours and combine harvesters in the peak of harvesting season also greatly contribute to delay in harvesting causing high postharvest losses and sometimes loss of farm crops to bushfires.
In my opinion, to reduce the harvesting losses and its associated costs, availability of adequate combine harvesters operating in the district during the peak of harvesting season will greatly facilitate the harvesting of paddy rice from the field on time, in an efficient manner and at less cost. Some solutions even though not exhaustive are proffer below:
- The Government through the Ministry of Food and Agriculture should engage with rice farmer associations on its decision to import combine harvesters to ensure that the right type and model of machines are imported since the limited number of harvesters currently operating in the district are very weak and performing below their capacity. Most are often unable to withstand the vagaries of the harsh weather conditions and quickly deteriorate before their life span.
- Government should expedite action on the setting up of farm mechanisation centre in the district to ensure that farmers have ready access to farm machineries for their farming activities.
- The District Assembly as a local authority should take advantage of the situation to invest in the procurement of combine harvesters. This will not only improve the Internally Generated Fund (IGF) base of the Assembly but will also ensure that enough revenue is raise to tackle the myriad of challenges confronting the wellbeing of the inhabitants of the district.
- The District Assembly and the District Department of Agriculture should collaborate with private firms operating in tractor services and dealership to facilitate the acquisition of the required combine harvesters by interested farmers.
- Farmers should be encouraged to form groups or associations to enable them attract government interventions and to further obtain good deals from private combine harvester operators and dealers.
- The District Assembly should enforce its bye-laws on bushfires and embark on mass education to ensure that people do not set up fires haphazardly with the excuse of pursuing bush rat.
In conclusion, the district has a great potential of increasing rice production and eventually contributing to government’s agenda of reducing rice importation by 2022. This can only be achieved through the institution of appropriate measures especially the provision of adequate combine harvesters to ensure that paddy rice are harvested on time and efficiently to prevent loss of grains to bushfires.