Rice farmers harvesting in  Astuare, Ghana. Credit: Chris Young/Oxfam
Cheap imports are threatening Ghanaian rice farmers

Al-Hassan’s story, Ghana

In Tamale market, northern Ghana, on display amongst the colourful fruit and vegetable stalls, is a blatant example of the rigged rules in the global rice trade. Bowlfuls of local rice, grown in local villages, are keenly hawked by women traders. But they struggle to compete for customers who are drawn into shops stacked to the ceiling with large sacks of white rice from the USA, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

Fifteen kilometres away, in Zugu village, Al-Hassan Abukari has been growing rice on less than a hectare of land for the past 30 years. His annual harvest of 27 bags — of 100kg each — brings in 60 per cent of the family’s income. ‘Maize and millet are our survival foods,’ he explains, ’but rice is the most important crop that we grow because we sell it to pay for all the other things we need for the household.’ Nine bags of rice pay for his sons Yakubu, 18, and Adamu, 10, to go to school. And when Adamu had dysentery last year, it took another bag to pay for transport, hospital fees, and medicine.

Farmers like Al-Hassan desperately need higher yields and better returns for their rice. That calls for investment in irrigation, training of farmers, improved threshing and milling facilities — and a market place that pays a worthwhile price. Al-Hassan and other villagers have set up a co-operative to market their crops together, but the prospects are not good.

In response to rising imports, the Ghanaian government planned to raise the rice tariff from 20 per cent to 25 per cent in 2003. The IMF blocked the increase in behind-the-scenes consultations.

Now Al-Hassan fears for the future. ‘If imported rice gets any cheaper, the market for our rice will completely come to a standstill. Even with the import tariffs that we have now, look at the situation we face,’ he says. ’If we can’t sell our rice, there is no way that we could afford to buy the fertiliser and other inputs we need — then we would have no crop to sell.’

For millions of farmers like Al-Hassan across Africa, Asia, and Latin America, growing rice is their only hope for getting out of poverty. However, cheap imports are undermining their prospects of a better life.