Aug 12, 2013, 12:46 PM
1. INCREASED FOOD SECURITY
The Gambian diet consists of not only rice as the staple food, but also other cereals, the millets, maize and sorghum, and as well as the main cash crop groundnuts, which also is a significant part of The Gambian diet, and therefore a food crop as well.
These crops are grown under the upland rainfed production system on alluvial soils with inherent low soil fertility, which is exacerbated by the adverse effects of climate change. There is also increasing population pressure on the uplands. Furthermore, extended cropping periods, with shortened, or no fallow period at all, leads to continuous soil degradation. This has led to rapidly declining course grain and groundnut production, resulting in reduced food availability and incomes. Therefore to obtain greater production, farmers have resorted to the practice of area expansion, that is cultivating larger and larger areas which leads to more and more severe soil degradation.
This practice, primitive agriculture by today’s standards, if not arrested immediately, will eventually lead to the desertification of the uplands, a potential environmental disaster.
With modern agriculture, the emphasis is on increased productivity, greater output with maximum improved crop management, but with minimum cultivated land area.
This can be readily accomplished with concerted efforts through simple research fertility trials. The likely improved plant growth with optimum plant nutrients, would lead to both improved productivity and quality of product, which is larger grain size, and larger kernels for both the cereals and groundnuts respectively.
An increased economic yield for cereals being a greater quantity of flour production would result from the larger grain size, and similarly with groundnuts, increased oil content with larger size kernels.
This would result in a very unique situation, whereby improved product quality actually becomes a greater increase in quantity. Therefore, an improved rain fed production system would complement efforts to achieve rice self-sufficiency, ultimately leading to the attainment of total food self-sufficiency.
Furthermore, improved management of the upland production system with reduced hectare would result in extended fallow periods, leading to improved soil conditions; the restoration of soil fertility and the recovery of vegetative cover to provide protection from soil erosion and further soil degradation. This would result in a more productive and sustainable upland production system.
2.0. A SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT POLICY
It must be appreciated that sustainable increased agricultural production comes from improved modern farming techniques. The chief means of achieving increased agricultural productivity is a well directed and competent national research system. Therefore for long-term development, an efficient agricultural research system would be highly profitable to the country. Infact without an efficient agricultural research system no substantial agricultural development can be achieved.
However, there has to be a holistic approach in generating the prerequisite modern production technologies, which cannot be accomplished by a research system working in isolation. There has to be a multi-disciplinary systematic approach, with researchers, extension agents, and farmers, working together to identify the militating production constraints, and formulating the essential mitigating strategies.
In view of the fact that agriculture is highly location-specific, this would require the establishment of a Farming Systems Research & Extension approach, in each Regional Directorate. In view of the tremendous potential contribution of agricultural research to sustainable agricultural development, there is no doubt that the establishment of regional research teams should be accorded high priority. As a pioneer of the country’s agricultural research system, I know for a fact that there have always been blanket nation-wide, crop production technology recommendations. When in fact what is needed is site-specific recommendations, which would take into account site-specific variability, in indigenous nutrient supply, and as well as in the amount and distribution of rainfall.
Although research is very expensive, however the establishment of regional research teams would lead to more cost-effective research. The Regional Directorates should therefore be capacitized with more support and encouragement with technical backstopping from the Department of Agriculture and NARI, to create the enabling environment, whereby they would spearhead the country’s drive towards sustainable agricultural development. In this regard, the future is bright, in that we are indeed fortunate to have some young, dynamic, energetic, and bright Regional Directors. In the same vein the equally dynamic leadership of the Department of Agriculture has been very proactive in ensuring effectively functional Regional Directorates.
However to effect intensive production commercialization, concerted efforts must be undertaken to address perhaps the greatest short-coming and special feature of the country’s farming system; that is failure to effect early-season planting, one of the basic principles of crop production. Most agricultural operations are time-sensitive, crop yields suffer if operations are not completed with due timeliness which would depend on good management. With tardiness, there is never enough available time to thoroughly and effectively carry out the prerequisite cultural practices, and hence the low crop yields.
Agricultural development has a very high capital investment cost for infrastructure development and improvement, machinery, equipment and supplies, and capacity building, and as well as long-term operational investments.
In this regard we must appreciate that private sector investments in agriculture must be seen as being as equally important as increased development assistance and public investments. Hence the reason why the international community is championing a multi-stakeholder approach in the context of a public/private partnership approaches.
With a public/private partnership approach private sector investments would provide the domestic financing required for long-term operational investments, whilst public investments through development assistance would provide the required capital investments. This would lead to the development of profitable joint ventures to foster a symbiosis. The symbiotic effect would be such that public investments would be used to make private sector investments in agriculture profitable, whilst private sector investments would increase the return to public investments. This therefore, would provide the enabling environment for increased private sector investments in agriculture as well as improving the effectiveness of donor assistance.
Hence the adoption and support by government, the farming community, the private sector, and the donor community of a public/private partnership approach, would prove to be a windfall and a win-win situation for all stakeholders.
Essentially therefore the implementation of a public/private partnership approach would enhance the drive towards self-sufficiency through intensive production commercialization. In this regard, a public/private partnership approach could be used to spearhead a three-prong approach to commercialization:-
Commercialization of resource poor small holder subsistence farmers with provision of production input credit and effective sensitive extension supervision through the commercialized contract farming practice,
The promotion of medium/large scale private commercial farms and master farmers, through a land rental scheme and absentee farming, and
The provision of ready access to agricultural land to foreign investors for the establishment of large scale plantation size operations.
With regards to the rainfed production systems, the Regional Directorates should be capacitized to provide expanded partnership between the private sector and the farmer producers. The partnership development would aim to promote master farmers, and a cadre of very proficient smallholder farmer producers.
With a pool of master farmers and a cadre of very proficient smallholder farmer producers, the Regional Directorates would then be able to develop target based programmes for the key commodities, especially maize and horticultural crops that impact on food security, and as well as have a lucrative commercial potential.
With the development of more productive and sustainable rainfed production systems, fully complemented with commercialization and irrigation to enhance increased sustainable crop productivity, intensification, and diversification; The Gambia therefore would then be well poised to develop her very own, home-grown, genuine Green Revolution, thereby providing long-lasting solutions to the frequent food crises. A PERSONAL INITIATIVE BY ALPHU JAIN MARONG
A PERSONAL INITIATIVE BY ALPHU JAIN MARONG
A PERSONAL INITIATIVE BY ALPHU JAIN MARONG