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Rising Cost Of Food Hits West Africa – And Threatens Cherished Jollof Rice

By Joseph Opoku

Ghanaian food consumers continue to face increasing prices of food. The spike didn’t start today, but has been exacerbated by recent events including the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia – Ukraine war. 

Data from the Ministry of Food and Agriculture indicates that between January and October last year, the average price of maize rose by 56 per cent, the price of plantain rose by 74 per cent, the price of tomato rose by 44per cent, the price of yam rose by 20 per cent, and the price of fresh pepper rose by 54per cent. Additionally, over that same period, the price of cassava rose by about 6 per cent, yam by 20 per cent and rice by 12 per cent. On the ground, therefore, it was more difficult for people to buy these foods and others that they needed to stay satisfied and healthy.

World Food Programme (WFP) data shows that between January and March 2021, the wholesale national average price of a 100 kg bag of maize in Ghana rose from about 190 Cedis to 200 Cedis. Over the same period in 2022, the price has risen from 300 cedis to about 370 Cedis. Other food products including vegetable oils, cereals, meat, sugar, and dairy products have seen a similar hike. An Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) Policy Brief on Regional Food Trade published in May 2022 indicated, that the price of maize and other coarse grains has increased by 76 per cent in Ghana over the last year. Food inflation is on the rise, resulting in the erosion of household purchasing power and increasing household poverty.

Russia – Ukraine war is driving food prices

West Africa is heavily dependent on imported food, particularly when it comes to cereals. In 2020, the region imported up to 12 per cent of all its cereals needs from outside the subregion. All of 50 per cent of all the rice (that all too important ingredient for the famed jollof dish in West Africa) consumed in the sub-region is imported, whilst 44 per cent of all wheat is similarly imported. Some of these imports come from Russia and Ukraine, and the war there is making it impossible for the foods to come in, triggering hikes in prices. A recent report by ECOWAS said there’s been a 30 per cent increase in the price of maize this year compared to average five-year figures prior, 26 per cent increase in price of millet, 24 per cent increase in price of sorghum and 18 per cent increase in price of rice. The ECOWAS report says the largest price increases were observed in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria.


“Grain price levels are particularly high this year. Compared to the average of the last 5 years for the same periods, prices are up 33 to 37 per cent during the month of March 2022 against the 23 to 27 per cent increase observed last November at harvest time (+10 percentage points). Price increases are notable for all cereals. Local cereals are the most affected, particularly maize, which, despite a quite stable regional production, has been the most affected by the strong household demand for sorghum and millet, the cessation of cross-border flows, the retention of stocks pending intentional purchases, and breweries, poultry farms, and livestock feed manufacturing industries,” the report said.  When it comes to the production of tubers like yam and cassava, production has been generally good. Except that general inflation, including the rising cost of transportation, has caused prices of tubers to increase. The ECOWAS report says there has been increase in the price for cassava ranging from 30 to 80 percent across the sub-region, with the highest increase observed in Ghana.  

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Fixing the problem

If these challenges can be fixed, a bottom-up approach has to be pursued, so Ghana and West African countries are less reliant on imported food but on locally produced ones. Better technology needs to be applied to food production as well. The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has been leading various efforts in Ghana to ensure smallholder farmers use appropriate technology to turn their farming activities into real businesses. They have also been working to help countries build resilient food systems.

AGRA works mainly with smallholder farming communities, governments, civil society organisations, research entities and the private sector to deliver agricultural transformation to help increase food production and deal with food insecurity challenges. AGRA has been working with governments and other key players in Ghana to identify and articulate capacity gaps, co-create evidence-based interventions, and make investments to strengthen state capacity to support agriculture. AGRA supports the Ghana government to increase incentives for private sector participation and investment in the agricultural sector while enhancing access to finance and markets. Over the last decade or so, AGRA has built an asset in technologies, partnerships, and models which are being scaled up for a significant impact on the status of inclusive agriculture. The strategy and support for Ghana now seek to bring these elements together and contribute to the national strategy, improving income and food security for at least 1.2 million smallholder households.

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As Ghana country manager of AGRA Juliette Lampoh – Agroh said during the celebration of Farmers’ Day, AGRA is committed to investing in technology that “helps improve farm productivity, enhance value chain integration, expand access to both local and international markets and boost resilience at systems and farmer-level.” “This integrated system approach will help scale and sustain the inclusive agricultural transformation activities through increased public and private sector investments, as well as improved policies,” the AGRA boss said.

These are all things AGRA is doing to support food systems in Ghana from the bottom up, and it presents a model that should be expanded on. Building locally sustainable food systems will be crucial in avoiding situations where factors like the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the Russia – Ukraine war, disrupt food systems and put food out of the reach of millions in the population. 

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