#Article (Archive)

Agriculture - The Backache Of the Economy

Jul 15, 2008, 5:41 AM

Happily the rainy season is here again and with it the expected torrential downpours of rain that help the production of groundnuts, maize, millet and other grains. With a good harvest the granaries are full to the door, then there is that degree of food security at the household level aspired to in vision 2020.

Malnutrition and kwashiorkor disappear for at least a while.

If draught shows it stern dry face, then hunger and starvation invariably become the order of the day. We pray this year for good rains and a rich harvest.

Coming to agriculture production, it is not long back where agriculture was nicknamed in Gambian macro economic studies the "back bone of the economy".  It was for good reason. Good agriculture production not only fed families but also fueled export and concomitant experts earnings necessary for the import of basic commodities. The annual contribution of agriculture to GDP was invariably above the 40% mark.

Today agriculture production is declining even if gradually, and it is the combined sector of trade. Tourism and natural resources are increasingly making up for that statistical shortfall.

The reason for the gradual decline of agriculture as a foreign exchange earner and as a major contributor to the economy lies primarily in the comparatively low level of productively in that sector. What farmers used to enjoy in the '70s and '80s cannot be realised within the current political framework. Before, farmers used to have access to qualitative seed varieties that were made readily available and distributed in a timely manner. Crops could then be cultivated early enough to allow for optimal maturity before the end of the rains. Today the availability of good seeds are not ensured, or if so not when farmers actually want them.

Arrangements for the procurement of seeds are usually late even though everyone knows that the start- up time for planting in The Gambia is always the month of May.

Farmers lack fertilizer to enrich effete soil. Because the appeals of the farming community during presidential cross- country tours do not always produce the desired results, agricultural yields remain low. The same applies for subsistence and for export levels.

Prices for agriculture production, in particular groundnuts, used to be lucrative thereby providing an incentive for greater productivity and resultant production. Today's prices comparatively have fallen so low they might even serve as disincentive for commercial farming thus paving the way for low production and very negligible exportation.

Before, farmers not only enjoyed commensurate prices for their produce they were also able to receive instant cash payments. Today the frustrating phenomena of credit buying is almost becoming the norm. Consequently, farmers become little keen about selling their groundnuts in The Gambia or even working hard to produce them.

The old methods of hand-hoe still dominate the farming scene. This may mean that not all arable areas are cultivated; another factor responsible for low production.  With the use of mechanised farming methods agricultural production would have appreciated today not declined.

The agriculture is to attain the desired high levels, appropriate and timely measures need to be taken to address its present setbacks. Agriculture inputs need to be made available on a timely basis. Prices should be remunerative enough to induce production, which means partly ACP countries should aspire to create a more equitable marketing arrangement with developed countries.

Farming should be widely mechanised even if government or the private sector have to establish a machinery rental business.

Credit- buying, in particular, must be made a thing of the past.

"Food is an important part of a balanced diet."

Fran Lebowitz