In my last article i talked about the problems of the agricultural sector and some of the possible policies that the government can adopt to solve these problems. In this article i will discuss other solutions that we can apply to the problems faced by our country in the agricultural sector. I mentioned the importance of a well communicated agriculture policy in the last article, however due to space constraints i could not elaborate on it in detail. I will also try to elaborate on its importance in this article.
Having a good policy on agriculture is the easiest, the most difficult and the most crucial part is implementing the policy and achieving all its goals. One can have the best agriculture policy on paper, but fail miserably to achieve targeted goals, especially if you cannot make the farmers and the general population understand and support the policy. In order to avoid failure, we must communicate policies to the farmers, and bring them onboard.
This can be done through different media platforms (Radio and Television, even social media), and community meetings. I have observed that our people (especially those living in rural settlements) are very receptive to information provided by the state through the state media. We can take advantage of this opportunity and inform our farmers about the crops they need to grow, the reasons why they need to grow these crops, and the kind of support that the government will extend to them them when they grow these crops. Also the state media can be used to explain to farmers how their income and welfare will increase if they help the government implement the policies.
The political leaders (Government) have a big role to play in informing our people about the policy direction. Most of our farmers are illiterates and have little clue about how to improve their income. Therefore they need an informed leadership to constantly educate them about the policies put in place and let them know their role in the implementation of those policies. I must emphasize here that the government must include the farmers in the policy formulation process, since they know their problems better. The government, starting from the President to a junior civil servant at the Ministry of Agriculture, must engage the farmers by frequently meeting them in their communities and communicating the new policies to them. Frequent and multi channel communication is needed to get the message to our farmers.
Of course one will occasionally come across farmers (mostly high school graduates or semi literates), who have seen and acted upon the potentials in horticulture and are now earning 5-10 times what an average civil servant earns. I must admit though that one can count such people on his fingers. Our agriculture will continue to be a failure if we cannot count such people in the thousands, which can only be done through proper and massive awareness creation. The government has a moral obligation to talk to our farmers, and emancipate them from extreme poverty. Such an awareness creation campaign must be conducted using the main local languages, which will allow both the awareness creator and the target group of the message (farmers) to communicate effectively. Our national radio and television can be utilized to conduct the awareness creation campaign.
There is a lot of idle time( time that is used to play music videos, and times used for other non value adding entertainment programs) on the national radio and television that can be better utilized to create awareness for our farmers. The ministry of agriculture can utilize these idle slots and teach our farmers how to space their onion, how to properly dry their cashew, and how to make homemade tomato paste.
Another very important issue that our agriculture policy must address is the issue of processing of agricultural products. If we want to extract maximum value from the agricultural sector, we must process our agricultural products within the country. Processing of agricultural products within our boundaries will add value to the products, create more wealth and jobs for our people. Also processing helps to open up other industries or businesses (Packaging, Logistics), which helps to further diversify our economy. For instance a small Mango juice processing plant in Brikama will not only create jobs for those working in the plant, but will also create jobs for truck drivers who will be transporting the mangoes from the different regions to the processing plant. The same can be said of a cashew processing plant.
Mangoes, Cashew, and Tomato are readily available in our country and the neighboring countries, so we can start processing these at a small scale, and utilize the agriculture policy tools to increase the quality and production quantities of these products to ensure a reliable supply to the processing plants.. Other agricultural raw materials that can be processed within the country, provided that production is increased are, Milk, Cotton and Sesame. Our government can work with the private sector or start state owned processing facilities that will turn our mangoes into Juice, tomato into tomato paste, milk into cheese, and raw cashew nuts into cashew kernels.
In fact there are two small scale cashew processing Plants in our country that were opened by Gambians. These two companies have not reached full potential due to insufficient support from the previous government, in terms of training, subsidies and Research & Development. The Youth Empowerment Project funded by the European Union, is currently extending some help to these processors in the form of capital to buy raw cashew nuts, and machines to increase productivity. Although this is a welcomed development, i must say it is not enough. The government must help them with more funds, machines and training so that they can be able to increase their productivity (output per unit input, in the form of capital or labour) and compete in the world market. The cashew processing industry has the potential of creating thousands of permanent jobs directly or indirectly. Also a well-developed cashew processing sub sector will increase the revenue base of the government, since the processors will have to pay tax to the government.
The cashew sector has huge potentials however the Gambian state is not yet aware of these potentials. Cashew even in its raw form is very valuable a kilo during the last cashew season was between 80-90 dalasi. A ton of raw cashew nuts sells for 80-90 thousand dalasi, whilst a ton of subsidized groundnuts sells for about 18,000 dalasi. Estimates put cashew production within the country at 10,000 tons in 2010 and 18,000 tons in 2015. This is equivalent to 1.2-1.6 billion dalasi which is about two times the total value of our groundnut exports in 2016. The Government of The Gambia and especially the Ministry of Agriculture should look at the cashew value chain seriously and come up with policies that will develop the sector and create jobs for Gambians.