We are approaching crisis point with regard to the price of rice. At the moment one bag is costing between D685 to D750 if you are in Banjul. This in itself is a very serious situation for those on low or no income but what of those people living outside of the Greater Banjul Area? The cost of transport, on top of the rapidly rising price of rice, means that the farther one goes from Banjul the more expensive the price of a bag of rice gets. These prices are simply beyond the means of many people. Rice is a vital part of our Gambian diet and if we lose out on this nutrition because of cost there must be somebody who is held accountable. We write regularly in these pages about the issue of development. We speak of a healthcare system which is improving and of the increasing access to education for both boys and girls. While these are very important issues and must never be overlooked, a government's first responsibility is to ensure that the population that elected them is not starving. As things stand at the moment many people struggle so much with price of food that there are many among us who are suffering from malnutrition. If something is not done to address the cost of food and rice in particular, these people may soon starve.
With large extended families, a bag of rice is expected to feed many mouths. Unfortunately in many cases the costs are now too high for a sufficient supply to be purchased. In many cases this will mean that the youngest, or those not needing all their strength for work, will end up having less to eat. This will affect children attending school through their inability to concentrate or work diligently on their studies and leave others weakened and more susceptible to disease.
Admittedly this is not simply an issue for The Gambia alone. The World Bank has said that food prices internationally have risen by 83% in the last three years. There have been food riots in Egypt, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Senegal and Haiti. In Haiti recently the violence led to a number of deaths. We must act to prevent anything of this kind happening in The Gambia. The government must find a way to subsidise the price of rice to ensure that people can afford to feed themselves. The Government must also however put in place a long-term plan to tackle this problem in the coming years as rice will only get more expensive. Restrictions on rice exports have been put in place by major producer countries such as India, China, Vietnam and Egypt because they themselves are struggling to feed their populations. As this is the case, we can only expect the price to climb higher and higher in the coming months. This is why the long-term solution is essential. Parents will stop at nothing to protect and feed their children so we must not let people get to a situation where they are that desperate. Urgent action is needed from the government so that we can avoid the terrible scenes we have witnessed in other nations as a result of food shortages. Time is against us so the action must be both swift and ultra-effective.
"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."
Henry David Thoreau