The Imperative for Transformation and Development of Gambia’s Agricultural Sector

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The agricultural sector of the Gambia remains and will continue to remain as the engine of economic growth that can create more job opportunities for the youths and the women folk of rural communities. The agricultural system of the Gambia needs new paradigm shift from rain fed agriculture or subsistence farming to economic vibrant agriculture which calls for massive capital investment. According to empirical research it has become increasingly clear that “investing in agriculture is the best way to end hunger, malnutrition, and extreme poverty in Africa and Gambia is not exceptional” earns a living from the land, agriculture can create economic growth spread more evenly across society, and extending deeper into rural areas, and helping more women, who make up 40 % of labour force. Furthermore, agricultural transformation and development in the Gambia will help to revitalize the rural areas, turning them from zones of economic stagnation today, to communities of economic prosperity. This will require significant investments in boosting agricultural productivity, development of rural infrastructure, provision of affordable finance, as well as incentives for the private sector to establish food processing and agro-allied industries in rural areas.

Primarily transformation of agricultural sector is the issue of research and development. Developed and developing nations entirely depends on research programmes for the generation of agricultural technologies focusing on crop agronomy, livestock improvement and breeding programmes, aquaculture, handling and management of post-harvest losses to serve as a stimuli for economic growth. The application of bio-technology in modern research and development is yielding many achievements and progressing in the area of multiplication and resistance of crops and livestock to adverse environmental condition. Importantly, government needs to rejuvenate our National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) and International trypano-tolerance (ITC) by allocating enough funds that would really propel their research base activities. Revamping the infrastructure with modern research tools, standard laboratories, green houses, storage facilities and gene banks for the preservation of our local and modern traits would also go a long way in maintaining and sustaining our local collections. The use of indigenous local knowledge system must not be forgotten and has to be incorporated in modern system research. For example countries like India are making the best use of local knowledge system in agricultural research development. Modern research in tandem with use of local knowledge will improve our local base research capabilities.

The extension system and delivery mechanism of proven agricultural technologies to the end users’ has to be redesigned in a participatory manner using the innovation platforms. The innovation plat form is technology development and transfer tool where all the actors have key role in the process of technology generation and transfer. The interaction and positive correlation amongst the actors along the value chain would increase production and productivity of both crops and livestock of smallholder farmers. The agricultural sector must not forget the training and demonstration centres both for crops and livestock that may require thorough rehabilitation in terms of infrastructure and installation of modern facilities with enough supply of human labour at the centres that would facilitate the transformation process of agriculture.                    Remarkably, transformation of agricultural development in the area of horticulture and livestock sub-sectors as the main driving force of reducing poverty, increasing income and attainment of food security. The government needs to pay more attention to vegetable production that earns more money than crop farming according to empirical research. This is possible by creating and establishing more vegetable gardens in regions where vegetable production and marketing is more pronounced and basing on needs of the community.

            Use of modern irrigation facilities, standard water reticulation system and proper fencing as in the case of FAO-MDG1c vegetable gardens serves as appropriate technologies ideal for the women farmers. On the other hand, production of food crops alone cannot achieve food and nutritional security but through the integration of livestock such as cattle, sheep, goat and poultry production, processing and marketing along the value chain approach would help a lot in addressing marketing problems. Food security cannot be achieved without judicious use of chemical fertilizer particularly for cereal crops looking at fragile nature of our soil health conditions. Therefore, the government needs to create that enabling environment where small holder farmers can have easy access to and afford fertilizer at reasonable price meaning the issue of subsidy has to come into play to increase production and productivity.

Importantly, the agribusiness sector would need business oriented approach, simply re-orienting away from treating agriculture as a ‘way of life’ or social welfare system to a business entity and to frame a transformation agenda that is public-sector and private partnership. The agricultural sector should focus on market oriented approach basing on consumers desire and needs. The establishment of market outlets linking producers and buyers at local level, national, regional and international with strong coordination from downstream to upstream would help smallholders’ farmers to produce both in quantity and quality for high premium price. This has to be followed by strong production development, marketing strategy and market diversification for consumer satisfaction.

The Gambia Livestock Marketing Agency (GLMA) mandated by an act to coordinate the buying and selling of livestock and it products should be given maximum support in term of financial, capital and human resources to spare head strategic objectives. The revitalization of well-known household name of the ‘livestock show’ at Basse, Yoro Beri Kunda and Abuko has to re-surface again as an economic activity in enhancing livestock production and marketing while reducing the importation of live animals from other neighbouring countries. It will further serve as a spring board to market competition by creating more market opportunities to smallholder farmers. This can only be possible when Department of Livestock Services, Gambia Livestock Marketing Agency (GLMA) and National Livestock Owners Association (NLOA) strongly collaborate with the support of agricultural projects particularly the components that touches on livestock promotion and marketing.

 Agricultural financing is one key area of possible intervention by the current government. The government in consultation with donor partners or genuine business entrepreneurs needs to establish Agricultural banks or cooperative banks. The establishment of agro-banks or farmers’ cooperative banks would be a right footing for smallholder farmers to have easy access to soft loan with minimal interest rates and collaterals. This kind of intervention will serve as attraction for the young agro-entrepreneurs to embrace agriculture as business entity and confidence among producers will be attained. The issue of matching grants as enshrined in most of agricultural projects can be linked to the agricultural banks so that small-holder famers can have easy access to the available funds with minimal interest avoiding long standing of bureaucracy.

Essentially, Central Project Coordinating Unit (CPCU) under the ministry of agriculture needs to be revisited for better coordination and coherent management of project funds and activities. On the other side of the coin, the central project coordinating unit can be merged to the planning service unit under the management structure of the Director. The planning service unit as it is the most appropriate unit that can handle all the agricultural data on livestock, crops, and market information systems otherwise it can be re-named as Agriculture Bureau of Statistics (ABS). In that situation, all the agricultural projects would be under the purview of the unit for better planning, budgeting, implementing and controlling of available resources as in the case of other government ministries. 

The public sector has a critical role to play in enabling these conditions and letting businesses flourish. In successful cases of agricultural transformation, liberalization of input markets, innovative financing, infrastructure development (irrigation, storage, and rural roads), and land availability, accessibility, ownership are important as were technologies and outreach plans are implemented. Today, new agricultural technologies, especially the application of information and communication technologies to agriculture, financial services and information services, open up new ways to replicate these successes, as well as drive new ways of modernizing value chains, and in a particularly inclusive manner.

Importantly, working policy documents such as the Agriculture and Natural Resource Policy (ANRP) carefully needs to be reviewed involving all the necessary stakeholders to become one working tool for all the ANR line ministries and departments. In conclusion, we need to make crop and livestock production friendly for people of all ages and both genders by using appropriate technology that suits our local conditions. We need to bring the youth back to cultivation by creating that enabling environment of incentives and motivation. We must ensure that as we increase productivity using the modern forms of technology in crop and livestock production would be mindful of safe guarding our environment.

Source: Picture: Saikou E. Sanyang (Ph.D)