Agriculture Minister, Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto

The Minister of Food and Agriculture has dismissed calls for government to regulate food prices to curb hikes, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic in the country.

At a press briefing in Accra Thursday, Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto said, government is putting in place measures to ensure there is enough food in the system, therefore, price controls are not necessary at the moment.

“There is no need to control prices, absolutely no need. The market is working, farmers are working.

“I think that the open pricing system that this government is following shows the kind of confidence that we have that we will be able to supply food to the market for consumers at very reasonable prices,” he added.

As residents of Accra, Tema, Kumasi and Kasoa rushed to purchase food items before a partial lockdown in March – which has now been lifted – food prices soared.

This resulted in the sharp rise in the prices of food items like gari. An ‘Olonka’ (a local unit of measure) of gari which used to sell at ₵5.00 was sold at ₵25.00.

The prices of tomatoes and other staple food items shot up by more than 100 percent, prompting calls for government to step in and put in place a standard price regime.

But the Agric Minister says he is not a believer of controlling prices.

The move, in his view, creates “an artificial environment for the misallocation of resources. That is the very simple economic reason why I do not believe in controlling prices.

“In any case, we are talking about nearly three million of farm produce, hundreds of thousands of traders, small and large in the market. We see the teeming numbers of market women and men, how do you go about controlling prices,” he queried.

But to ensure that there is an abundance of food, Dr Akoto said governemnt has distributed improved seeds to farmers across the country to expand their yield.

In the case of rice, he said the country was rarely self-sufficient before the current administration took over.

However, from less than 150,000 metric tonnes, the country in 2019 harvested 665,000 metric tonnes of rice and government is targeting a harvest of between 750,000 and 800,000 metric tonnes for 2020.

“I am saying these figures with confidence. It is the amount of improved seeds that we supply to farmers that we use to do these extrapolations. We have moved from supplying 1,600 metric tonnes of improved rice seeds to 4,600 to 6,600 and last year we distributed close to 9,000 metric tonnes of seed.

“So we are ramping up the amount of improved rice seeds we are giving to farmers. You cannot compare the yield of the improved seeds to the traditional seeds…it is double. So the farmer who was harvesting four bags per acre or so, is now dong more than that…some are doing eight and nine bags and it is attracting a lot of interest into the seed business in this country and also farming of rice seeds,” he added.

Dr Akoto said government is hoping to do more through the supply of mills to rice-producing communities ,so the farmers themselves can mill rice before it goes on to the traders.