SHE SHE SHE: Mr President: Women gardeners say importing onions not to their advantage

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Women gardeners in the business of locally produced onions in the country have said that the news from the government to the Gambian people that the restrictions and ban on onion importation has been lifted. They said that now anyone can import onions and that this was very unfortunate and ‘bad news’ for them.

Perhaps your office has a better response to the concerns raised by our mothers, sisters, aunties and loved ones in onion gardening and selling.

However, Mr President, the democratic state that the Gambian people voted for want it to be inclusive and favourable to all including these women. The nation must not only be enjoyed by the rich and the powerful.

Mr President, during your recent ‘Meet the People’ tour did you take a walk to one of the local gardens in any part of the country where women till the soil so hard, bending under the hot sun, using their traditional wooden tools? They strive to ensure that at the end of the day they will have a good harvest.

Have you seen the nature of the roads they use to go to these gardens? Have you seen the nature of the wells they dig to access water? Have you seen how narrow and isolated those gardens are? Do you know what they go through and the type of locally made fertilizers they use to make their gardens safe from pests?

They wake up in the morning and work on their gardens from sunrise to sunset. Some of them camp and cook there just to make sure that they have the best onions.

Mr President, in the last 22 years, the market for them was not favourable because their products were competing with that of the former head of state that has all the equipment at his disposal.

These women, after tilling the soil hard with their bare hands, are paid less for their onions and sometimes there is no one to buy from them.

Amie Secka from Niamina East in the Central River Region said she has a big garden where she produces tonnes of onions. 

She said for gardeners like her, allowing importation of onions into the country would mean spoiling the market for them.

She said: “When people start to import onions here, our own onions will not be sold, our onions will be spoiled as there will be no market for them.  We don’t have the power to build our own storage facilities to store our onions while selling them bit by bit.”

Amie said the government should place an embargo on onion importation when locally-produced onions are in the market and remove the embargo when the onions are finished.

“With support from the government, what we produce from our various gardens across the country can supply the entire country,” the woman gardener said.

Mr President they voted for you so that you would help them with tools, fertilizer, boreholes and good roads for easy access to their gardens.

They had hoped for a level playing field. When they voted they never thought that such a decision would be taken without them being put in the limelight.

Most of the women and men in suits and ties and most of the school going boys and girls in uniforms have had their school fees paid by their mothers who are women gardeners.

Women gardeners and farmers have nothing at their disposal other than their strength and the passion they have to make life better for their children.

Fatou Darboe, from Brikama, said she is a market vendor and gets her onions from local women gardeners to sell at the market.

She said she was saddened by the news of the government’s removal of the import ban on onions because it is from onion sales that a lot of women earn their living.

She also suggested that the government should make it policy for at least three months that when the locally-produced onions are in the market, there should be no imports of onions.

“That will be somehow helpful,” she said with a sigh of frustration.          

Mr President we would rather have our mothers as gardeners, tilling the soil day and night, than sitting at the street corners begging for survival

 But we cannot be assured that they will continue to till the soil when their labour is been hijacked by the rich and the mighty.

 If our mothers till the soil day and night but do not have a market to sell their products, do not have a good storage facilities to keep their onions from rotting and the rich, who are mostly men, are allowed to import onions into the country, then we are sending them back to poverty.

In their gardens they have no one and no help but themselves and yet still they are happy because this is what they believe in and it is their only means of earning a decent living.

When their onions are due for harvest that is the time the thieves will also fasten their belts and start stealing from them. Yet they take it and hardly ever report it to the police. The garden women, our mothers, sisters, aunties, nieces and daughters are indeed honourable.

Mariama Fofana, from Badibu Salikenni in North Bank Region, said “That the government should tell people to go outside and buy what is already produced in the country is “very unfortunate”.

She said:  “I am appealing to the government to get us markets to sell our onions first before asking others to import onions.”

Ramatoulie Manneh of Jarra Madina said they produce tonnes of onions at their garden back home.

She said their onions are ready for the market but whenever they go to the lumos (local weekly market) with their onions, they now come back home with them.

“We don’t have anywhere to store it so some of the onions already started to spoil,” she lamented, adding that what the government should do is to help find markets for the locally-produced onions and not import onions.

Ramatoulie said with the huge garden they have, they can supply the country with onions when supported by the government.

Fatou Ceesay from Batinjon said she is not sure whether the locally-produced onions could satisfy the entire country but what they want is for their onions to be sold first.

Awa Jallow from Kembujeh Madina, Nyima Kanteh Jara of Pakalinding, and Fatoumata Fadera from Badibou Sanjal Sara Kunda all re-echoed similar sentiments.

They all appealed to the government to look into their concern vis-a-vis onion importation.

Mr President these are your women. The women of this great nation are appealing to you to revisit your decision and see how best it can work out in their interests as well.

They are saddened by the news because they have no power to compete with those that will be importing onions. With your help they can stand a chance of selling their products.

We hope that the Ministry of Agriculture under OJ’s leadership will tackle these concerns at his level as well and look for ways and means of securing the interests of the garden women.

All the same, we congratulate the NEMA Project for sponsoring these women to take part in the GCCI Trade Fair and for helping them in their Garden work.

We equally call on them to help with storage facilities where the women can store their onions while waiting to sell them. 

Author: Halimatou Ceesay