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CRR Farmers: FAO desilting canals in CRR provides access to quality seed

Apr 9, 2020, 11:53 AM | Article By: Mamadou Edrisa Njie

In The Gambia generally, rice farming has lost its hey days. In the 1980s, farmers in the then MacCarthy Island Division, now Central River Region (CRR), were feeding families all year round with their harvests.

Jahally and Pacharr rice fields in the Central River Region South were once famous for tons of output in rice yield which earned them a household name in The Gambia.  However, that glory has been lost due mainly to a huge decline in rice production and productivity.

It would be recalled that the Jahally and Pacharr rice field projects took off in 1983-84 with a total land area of 1,392 hectares at the time - 545 hectares for pump irrigation, 703 hectares for tidal and 144 hectares of improved rain-fed land.

Over the years, lack of access to quality seeds, fertilizers, ploughing services, inadequate water supply, floodings, lack of access to good roads and markets, have remained key barriers to rice production and productivity in the area.

FAO, through the European Union-funded project titled “Agriculture for Economic Growth and Food Security/Nutrition to mitigate migration flows”, is supporting a contractual Rice Growing Scheme in Jahally and Pacharr rice fields to help reverse the trend.

The project aims to contribute to sustainable growth in the agricultural sector and reduce food insecurity and malnutrition to mitigate migration flows to Europe.

 Towards increasing the participation of the most vulnerable smallholders in value chains, the project has identified rice for value chain strengthening through tripartite rice contract growing scheme. Private sector engagement is key activity towards increasing most vulnerable smallholders’ participation in value chains, especially those that can be identified as lead firm.

 Maruo Farms is a private investment in the rice sector involved in the production, processing and marketing of home grown rice and is working towards 10 tons per hectare productivity in Jahally and Pacharr. It has engaged the Department of Agriculture (DoA) for support towards the realization of its objectives in the country.

 FAO is supporting the smallholder rice farmers to increase rice productivity and increase their participation in the rice value chain. FAO through its implementing partner, the Agribusiness Service Unit under the DoA, facilitated the development of the tripartite rice contract agreement between Maruo Farms  (the lead Firm), Supersonicz: The Microfinance (the financing institution, and 200 smallholder rice farmers (under the coordination of the National Coordinating Organisation for Farmers Association (NACOFAG) to produce 700 tons of rice (2020 dry-season production) with an agreed responsibilities and production timeline.

All the participating 200 farmers will receive seed, fertilizer; ploughing services (through Supersonicz) and technical advice on good agronomic practices from DoA and FAO agronomists, and Manu Farms will buy their produce.

Commenting on the intervention, Mr. Lamin Camara, a 68-year- old farmer who had spent his entire life in rice farming, noted that the decline in rice production and productivity has had devastating impacts on lives and livelihoods in the area. He, however, expressed optimism that the FAO supported intervention will be a game-changer.

He said, “The timely intervention of FAO Banjul office has renewed our hopes and expectations this year.”  Camara continued, “With funding from the European Union, FAO is supporting us (farmers) through the Regional Agriculture Office in Sapu, to desilt our tidal irrigation canals to enable us have enough water in our rice fields for dry season rice production.”

The CRR farmers argued that they would not have been producing rice this year if it was not for this FAO led intervention, “because the canals are blocked, we could not plough the fields or purchase seed and fertilizer for production”.  FAO Banjul office is providing all these services through a tripartite agreement.

“We are very hopeful for a bumper harvest and increased income as the intervention has catered for the marketing of our produce; and I can say that this assistance will go a long way towards bringing Jahally and Pacharr to its glory days,” Camara remarked.

He added: “I can tell you that farmers in Jahally and Pacharr (not just the 200 farmers involved in the Contract Rice farming) are expecting bumper harvest for this season and seasons to come because of the ongoing desilting of the tidal canals-[the removal of earthy materials, such as sand, mud and weeds, from the bed of a fast flowing river]-in the rice fields.”

The desilting of a 3km tidal canal that connects rice fields with the fresh waters of the River Gambia will enable us to produce rice for both household consumption and for sale, said the farmer.

“During my childhood days, we used to have enough water supplies because the canals were not filled with grasses,” recollected Camara.

Mr. Haruna Gassama, President, CRR Rice Farmers Cooperative Society, thanked FAO for the intervention. According to him, the 200 rice growers registered with the scheme are committed to the success of the initiative.

Tripartite agreement

Gassama recalled that the tripartite agreement was signed in December, 2019 with Maruo Farms, and Supersonicz to boost rice production in the region.

Gassama acknowledged that the farmers that assented to the agreement are presently benefiting from ploughing services provided by Supersonicz, and that very soon all of them would be fully engaged in production.

The head of CRR South Rice growers grouping decried the delay in the desilting of the canals, noting that the late transplanting of rice means they are likely to harvest in the rains (July) which will undermine the quality of the produce.

He appealed for both the desilting and ploughing to be accelerated to minimize the impacts of the rains on dry season production.

Mrs. Suntu Sanneh, a female rice grower at Jahally rice fields said the FAO support is ‘timely’, as she recalled that for the past years, they have been requesting for such support but all proved futile.

She pointed to the benefits they (200 farmers) have seen as part of the agreement, which include early ploughing, provision of fertilizer and quality seeds and available market for them.

Mr. Musa Darboe, Chief Executive Officer of Maruo Farms,   reiterated their commitment to the initiative. He noted that despite the challenges encountered in the implementation of the agreement, including delays in having all the 200 farmers open their bank accounts with Supersonicz, desilting and ploughing of the rice fields, all parties have demonstrated a strong and common desire–improving production and productivity and farmers income.

Agricultural commercialization

“In The Gambia, we need to have low cost labour intensive farming to attract more farmers in the agricultural commercialization scheme,” he posited.

Senior Agribusiness Officer at Agribusiness Services, Mr. Ousman Sanyang, who was also part of the joint monitoring team that recently inspected the ongoing desilting of the canals and releasing of the water into rice fields, expressed his profound appreciation to FAO, Supersonicz, Maruo Farms and Rice Farmers Cooperative Society for the giant steps taken to bring Jahally and Pacharr to its splendor days.

Mr. Lamin Fatty, Senior Marketing Officer, Agribusiness Services and Mr. Lamin Jawara, Senior Agric Officer, and Focal Person for Agribusiness Services in Central River Region South, all expressed gratitude to FAO Banjul office for the timely intervention adding that with the desilting of the canals and easy passage of water in the rice fields, Senior Agribusiness officials believe farmers’ production would improve.