TALKING DRUM: When I bought Ghana rice

Just when I pressed the switch to turn on the rice cooker, I saw some particles in the rice pot. They appeared to be some black particles mixed with the rice. Then, I knelt to get close (I had placed my lens somewhere) to have a proper look at what I was seeing and I realised the rice was full of weevils.

It was my first time buying a Made in Ghana rice and what greeted me in my quest to prepare a ‘sumptuous meal’ almost quenched my appetite.

When I asked the shopkeeper whether she had Ghana rice, she responded in the affirmative. Yes, she had but unfortunately she had not displayed any of the brands she had in front of her shop as she did for the foreign brands.

This was somewhere in Accra in late 2020.

“Ok, please, do let me see which brands you have so I can make a choice,” I said to her. She brought two different brands of 5kg bags of the local rice and recommended one to me. I listened to her and purchased her recommended brand.

Last year, I wrote an article on this very subject of buying local rice. This was when Ghanaians made cacophony of beautiful noises, urging themselves to buy locally produced rice. The campaign gained prominence as the media found room on their politically packed morning shows, on both TV and radio, to talk about agriculture.

What really brought about the campaign stemmed from media reports of local rice farmers crying over their produce going waste in their respective farms. It was that bad. Most of these farmers even had to give out a full bag of rice as a bonus package to their would-be buyers per every two bags purchased. Some farmers, we were told, added live fowls to the deal at no cost to these buyers.

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This government made promises about that it will buy from the farmers. President Akufo-Addo, as well, did well by speaking on the situation. Nonetheless, in his drive to get Ghanaians to buy the local rice as a way of supporting our farmers, he kept committing a blunder that I pointed out to him in my said article dubbed, ‘Nana Addo, his colonial citizens & the ‘buy Ghana rice’ nonsense!’

TALKING DRUM: Nana Addo, his colonial citizens & the ‘buy Ghana rice’ nonsense!

The president repeatedly said: “I urge you [Ghanaians] to patronize locally produced rice.” The truth is, in developing countries, I said in the article, our presidents must not urge their people to do that which is right. You impose! Read the aforementioned piece to know the measures I proposed.

Nobody listened to me on what I believe were brilliant suggestions I made to get almost every Ghanaian patronize and eat the local rice. I am sure you are not surprised that the zeal that surrounded the campaign of buy Ghana rice has gone with the wind, right? That campaign did not go beyond three weeks. Today, we are all back to actively consuming foreign rice!

When I ordered for my first bag of Ghana rice, my motive was to, first, try it and thereby support a local business through my purchase. Are you yearning to know what then happened to my weevil-infested rice? Right, let me tell you. On that day, I washed it more than six (6) times after spotting the weevils till I got somewhat a clean rice to cook. I usually do not wash my rice before cooking.

My stew was already prepared and a hungry man waiting to fill his belly could not afford throwing the rice away to step out for another purchase. A waste of money that would have been!

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This is the sort of ‘no choice’ African leaders must let their citizens battle with until we fully accept to grow what we eat and eat what we grow. Unfortunately, however, in Africa, since it is our leaders and their cronies who import the foreign goods for the people, it has always been an impossibility our governments drafting solid policies that could firmly hold local business to compete with their counterparts abroad. From toothpicks to vehicles, we import everything even when some local firms could do the same supply.

For instance, why do we import into Ghana a product like tomato paste from Italy and other countries when it is our own tomato farmers who migrate to these places to work on same tomato farms because the system back home did not support their trade?

About two weeks ago, I watched a documentary by DW titled “Tomatoes and greed – the exodus of Ghana’s farmers” and I cried throughout the 52-minute tape. The said documentary, a spellbinding one that exhibits highest standards of journalism, chronicled the lives of Ghanaian tomatoes farmers who have left places like Techiman and Nkoranza all in the Bono East Region to Italy for greener pastures. Getting the opportunity to work in the tomato farms in Italy, as a labourer, is a huge task to accomplish coupled with extremely inhumane working conditions.

Yet, these very farmers work on the farms in Europe to feed the tomato industry there. Their labour contributes to the manufacturing of these tomato pastes which get exported to us down here and at our various markets we happily buy. The truth is, no one can blame these runaway farmers.

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When they produce(d) same tomatoes here in Ghana, they get no processing plant and some market women bypass them (farmers) and make it through Techiman to the northern part of Ghana to Burkina Faso to buy same tomatoes. We together with our politicians are seriously sick!

Can we ask about the state of the Pwalugu Tomato Factory (also known as the Northern Star Tomato Company)? Can we get the data on who and who are the importers of tomato paste into the country? As aforementioned, these importations are mainly in the hands of some ‘big men’ and they will at all cost ensure local businesses that could substitute their imports are crippled so they have their way.

Until we get a president who passionately has nationalism at heart to assiduously work to turn things around, we will continue to enjoy rice from Thailand, tomato paste from Italy and pamper our teeth with toothpicks from China.

I am certain that not all local rice are bad. And, it is also very possible the brand I bought might have had a bad day with me having a bag of theirs infested with weevils. Whereas we sternly tell local rice producers to be diligent and give us wholesome rice, my government must also be able to impose hefty tariffs on foreign products to pave way for the growth of local alternatives.

Mr. President, the time to plant a coconut tree is today. Stop pampering Ghanaians and let them eat what they grow!

By Solomon Mensah

The writer is a broadcast journalist with Media General (TV3/3FM). Views expressed here are solely his and do not, in anyway, reflect the editorial policy of his organisation.

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