The Department of Agricultural Engineering, UCC in collaboration with the Institute for Global Food Security, Queens University Belfast through the support from Agilent Foundation and MARS technologies has organised an international workshop on the topic: “Improving Rice Integrity and Managing Food,” as part of efforts geared towards sensitizing the public and monitoring food fraud and authenticity.
In his opening remark, the Dean, School of Agriculture, Prof. Elvis Asare-Bediako, acknowledged the importance of the workshop and indicated that the authenticity of food today has become a huge burden on the consumer because some suppliers (producers), on basis of greed and voracity to earn money, have decided to produce plastic (fake) rice and low-quality food to be sold on the market. “We are all at risk of eating fake and low-quality rice from the market every day since there has not been any on-site mechanism to monitor the authenticity of the food we consume,” he said. The Dean, who chaired of the programme, was hopeful that the workshop would set the tone to inform and educate participants, stakeholders and the general public on the need to be vigilant on whatever food to take in.
The Local Chair, co-Principal Investigator (PI) and a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Agricultural Engineering, Dr. Ernest Teye, said that rice was consumed by more than 3.5 billion people (almost half of the world’s population) and African countries alone imported more than 7.6 million tons of rice amounting to about $ 4 billion. According to him, “in 2016, there was a widespread rumour of fake plastic rice in the world, which Ghana was not left out, and this rumour was ranked 9th of 13 emerging food risks in the world.”
Dr. Teye indicated that the matter worsened because the well-known detection techniques were inappropriate for on-site application and lacked skilled individuals. Dr. Teye noted that detection technique was also difficult to use because it involved high cost, and was much labour intensive. He also added that the technique was often limited to a few sample selections with its own challenges such as high cost, difficult to use, and long duration among others. The Local Chair noted, “This notwithstanding, the use of rapid detection techniques for the authentication of the many rice brands in the market is also not available and this means rice will be consumed before the test results are released, furthermore the market surveillance of suspicious rice is normally destructive and limited to only a few samples.”
Global Research on Fingerprinting Rice
In view of the aforementioned, Dr Teye said the Department of Agricultural Engineering, UCC, in collaboration with the Institute for Global Food Security, Queens University, Belfast, through the support from Agilent Foundation and MARS Technologies, South Africa, conducted a global research on fingerprinting rice to implement a system to monitor and manage food fraud (a two-tier approach). Dr. Teye said, “This led to the development of rapid handheld spectroscopic technique coupled with a mobile phone for quick on-site non-destructive detection of rice authenticity and quality.” He stated that the workshop, which was first of its kind, was therefore organized to provide participants in the rice value chain with comprehensive training in the use of ‘handheld spectroscopic methods technology’ for rapid detection of authentic, fraud and contaminated rice.
He said, “The workshop is therefore timely as the technique provided regulators as well as other players a novel, rapid and inexpensive detection technique for rice authenticity on-site (taking the lab to the sample). This is particularly vital in the face of global rice fraud with its huge socio-economic and health consequences.”
The participants of the workshop numbered over 170, which included the actors in the rice value chain such as Processors, Breeders, Wholesaler, Retailers, Market women and Farmers. Others were Police officers, Scientists, Media, Investors, Lecturers, Researchers, Students, Medical officers, Agric Officers, Bankers, and Opinion leaders. Also present were Food safety and quality regulators (Food and Drugs Authority - FDA/Ghana Standard Authority - GSA) and Consumers.
The College Registrar, College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences (CANS), Mrs. Mildred Asmah, Director Institute for Global Food Security, former Pro Vice-Chancellor of Queens University, Belfast and Principal Investigator, Prof. Chris Elliott, Deputy UK Government Chemist, Mrs. Selvarani Elahi, Rice Breeder, Crop Research Institute (CRI), Dr. Maxwell Darko Asante, and Prof. Sarah Darkwah (VOTECH). The others were Prof. J. P. Tetteh (Crop Science), Prof. Peter Boamah (Bolga Polytechnic), Prof. John Owusu (Koforidua Technical University), Dr. Jane Mbolle Chah (Nigeria), Mr. Washington K. T. Willie (Liberia), Mr. Joseph Niwagaba (Uganda), Dr. Enock Duodu (UEW), Dr. Francisca A. Ansah (University of Energy & Natural Resources), Dr. Newlove Afoakwah (University for Development Studies) and Prof. Isaac Dukuh (Bolga Polytechnic) were present at the workshop.