ACCRA, The Ghana government has directed all schools, hospitals and other state institutions to mandatorily buy foodstuff from local farmers.

They can only import food into the country if local producers indicate they do not have the capacity to supply such foods.

Cabinet has directed the Ministry of Food and Agriculture to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Ministries of Health, Education as well as Gender, Children and Social Protection to make the new directive binding.

Minister for Food and Agriculture Dr. Akoto Owusu Afriyie who disclosed this to Joy News said the directive is aimed at averting glut from the expected increased yield as a result of the implementation of government’s Planting for Food and Jobs Programme.

We will have the first option of supplying them with foodstuffs. It’s only when we cannot supply them that they can go and buy from outside So that we create the demand with government procurement power for the food that the farmers produce and that is the way forward, he explained.

Some of these institutions ignore local producers and import foodstuffs particularly rice from abroad citing better quality and taste. But the Agric Minister says this will change soon.

This is an innovation. In the previous years, they have done it verbally and it has not worked. This time, the cabinet has agreed that we enter into this documented arrangement so that they take (the food farmers produce) from us, Dr. Afriyie added.

Earlier this year government announced its flagship Planting For Food and Jobs Policy aimed at reviving the agricultural sector with the objective of making Ghana food secured. Under this policy, the government will provide agricultural inputs at subsidized prices to farmers and support them with timely, high-quality extension services. The focus is on five major crops for the first year: maize, rice, sorghum, soyabean and vegetables (tomato, onion and chilli pepper).

The yields of these crops are expected to increase by between 5 and 20 percent, raising concerns about the likelihood of a glut in the system, especially when the country loses about 400 million cedis every year as a result of post-harvest losses.

But the minister assures his outfit has a plan to prevent that.

Farmers have responded to the news with excitement.

A farmer in the Suhum Kraboa Coaltar District where the minister first announced this told Joy News this will give us the strength to continue farming hard and increase our production.

The minister further re-affirmed plans to construct 1,000 metric tonnes warehouses in every district across the country to help provide marketing infrastructure for farmers.

He says the warehouses will both be a central point of marketing and a common area where some level of processing and packaging of farmers’ produce can be done.

The NPP government promised during the 2016 electioneering campaign it will prioritise the provision of the market for the produce of farmers so they do not run into losses.

The move is aimed at reversing the country’s huge food import bill which currently stands at $2.2 billion annually.

Dr. Akoto Afriyie says the directive is a major step to help deal with the huge food import bill.