Ghanaians would have to wait much-longer for the mass production of rice from the much-publicised Prairie Volta Limited, formerly known as the Aveyime Rice Project, in the North Tongu District of the Volta Region.
Information available to Today indicates that the rice project, which on commissioning was billed to produce 34,000 tonnes of rice annually, produced only 8,000 tonnes of rice in 2012.
Workers say the machines in the rice factory could produce four times what is being produced in 2012, and is so the plant has been operating way below capacity for many years.
However the core issue of the problem is that the farmers cannot plant and harvest enough rice to feed the plant.
Hence the foreign partner, who also controls management, Prairie Company of the United States, which owns 40 per cent shares in the Prairie Volta Company Limited, is threatening to abandon the project and head home, especially if Government of Ghana fails to honour its financial obligation to the project to ensure smooth operations.
Originally, the Rawlings administration started the project in the mid-1990s with a loan of $22 million from a US Bank backed by Ghana’s sovereign guarantee to the US company, Prairie Volta Company Limited, owned primarily by an Africa American young woman, Mrs. Renee Woodard Cotton.
That original company was the Aveyime Rice Company Limited and the policy goal of the project was to grow and mill rice in the Volta Region to reduce Ghana’s rising rice import bill, which, in the mid 1990s, stood at $100 million per year.
However, the project could not take off, because the wilful negligence of several Ghanaian officials supposed to supervise the project allowed Mrs. Cotton to spend about $10 million of the loan on herself.
Additionally, Government of Ghana neglected to set up all the facilities, provide utilities and crop more acres to grow the rice that would feed the mill.
Today, Ghana’s annual rice import bill stands at $450 million, and the authorities at the Aveyime Rice Project can still not solve the basic problems to make it take off.
It is still suffering serious financial constraints, because national administrations, over the last decade-plus, have not seen fit to invest in it.
Last year only 600 hectares were planted. This year only 750 hectares of land were planted and harvested, and once the milling is done, there will be no more Paddy Rice to mill.
A recent visit to the site of the project revealed that the company will soon toil to a halt if the central government does not put in place practical measures to support its operation.
Today also discovered that the company is currently seeking a $30 million fund to enable the farm develop over six thousand (6,000) hectares of land for rice cultivation, for both local consumption and eventual export.
The amount, officials say, will be used to develop the irrigation facility of the project, provide seeds and agronomy service to farmers and procure tractors and combined harvesters.
Unlike in the past, rice is a staple in Ghana and now far out-strips maize as a major content of diet.
Speaking on an Accra-based radio station, Joy FM, recently, the Financial Manager of Prairie Volta Limited, Richard Amoasi-Andoh, said the company through the help of the Agricultural Development Bank (ADB,) acquired a loan of 4.6 million dollars for new and modern equipment to boost local rice farming.
He disclosed that the farm on the average produces 26-30 tonnes of harvested rice a day, which is about 20 bags of rice.
According to him, since production resumed in 2009 till 2011 Aveyime have made an average of $4 million from sales, and it is targeting a sales output of $7.2 million this year.
Amoasi-Andoh lamented that in spite of these initiatives, the farm is reeling under financial challenges.