WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — Stepped-up domestic production of rice in Ghana has led to lower expected imports of the commodity during the 2017-18 crop season, according to a Feb. 2 Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) report from the Foreign Agricultural Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Domestic rice production in Ghana is forecast at 450,000 tonnes in 2017-18, up from 390,000 tonnes in 2016-17, the USDA noted in its report. The agency said the higher production reflects favorable conditions, government of Ghana commitments to increase rice production through the introduction of improved high yielding and disease resistant varieties, and the adoption of low cost water management practices. But there are still challenges to growth, the USDA noted, including availability and cost of rice seeds and fertilizer. Lack of farm mechanization and proper processing facilities also are factors that have contributed to poor quality domestic crop, the USDA said.

Imports of rice are forecast at 550,000 tonnes in 2017-18, down from 580,000 tonnes in 2016-17. The main suppliers of rice to Ghana are Thailand, Vietnam and India. The United States provides only 1% of the market share.

“Traders perceive the United States as a reliable supplier of premium quality rice but they have increasingly turned to Asian rice, particularly Thai jasmine rice, whose quality image has improved substantially and is highly prized by consumers,” the USDA noted in the report. “Although the United States introduced two fragrant jasmine rice brands in the last few years to counteract the growing market share of Thai jasmine rice, it suffered a severe decline in 2014, as a result of the increased price sensitivity of the market. There is also increased promotional activity of Thai origin brands of rice on radio, TV and billboards. Thai aromatic rice is becoming the preferred rice of those shopping in the ‘quality’ segment of the market, chosen for its special taste (60% of consumers buy aromatic rice because of its taste). High-end restaurants and eateries rely heavily on Thai aromatic rice to deliver quality and taste to their customers.”

According to the USDA, about 70% of rice sold through retail outlets in Ghana is imported.