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ECONOMYWATCH:SMEs indispensable in Gambian economy, employs 60% of urban labour

Oct 1, 2014, 12:22 PM | Article By: By Al Amin

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) play a central role in Gambia’s economy as the sector accounts for more than 60 per cent of the urban labour force and constitutes 20 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Trade has said.

“The impact of the MSME sector goes beyond wage creation. They generate employment for the poor low-skilled workers, increase skill development and have broader positive externalities such as better access to health care and education,” PS Naffie Barry said recently at a ceremony marking the beginning of the campaign for the 4th edition of Marche Jula, an annual mini-trade fair organized by the Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI).

Mrs Barry explained that small and medium enterprises are more adoptable and resilient to shocks, which makes them an important agent for economic development.

Market challenge

The Trade Ministry PS also said even though MSMEs account for more than 60% of the urban labour and 20% of the GDP, they can do much better save for the challenge of access to market.

“One of the most difficult challenges facing the MSME sector is access to reliable markets,” PS Barry said.  “The growth potential of this sector continues to be inhibited by lack of adequate access to markets and therefore their contribution to economic development is also limited.”

Government concern

The Gambia government has always been concerned about the factors affecting the development of MSMEs in the country.

In view of this, Mrs Barry said her ministry on behalf of the government usually organises trade forums where the private and public sectors meet to discuss issues affecting the business environment.

The Ministry of Trade has been working to improve the business environment for the private sector.

Earlier this year, they updated the 2008 MSME policy to make it consistent with the Programme for Accelerated Growth and Empowerment (PAGE), the country national development blueprint.

She said the policy was updated to be consistent with Vision 2020, which seeks to make The Gambia a self-reliant, enterprising and middle-income nation that generates growth and alleviates poverty by the year 2020.

Registration at no cost

The government is working to further facilitate and simplify the regulatory and legislative environment for businesses in order to make them less restrictive, the Trade PS said.

This, she explained, has been partially addressed through the Single Window Business Registration in all the administrative regions of the country facilitating business registration for all businesses at minimal costs.

“We are now working towards enabling MSMEs to register their businesses in less than a day at zero costs,” PS Barry said.

“This will also encourage current informal enterprises and companies to register by removing the barriers of time and cost,” she added.

She said at the moment the government facilitates and subsidizes the participation of MSMEs in local and international trade fairs, provides financial support to associations through projects such as the Enhanced Integrated Framework, The Gambia Growth and Competitiveness Project, and the Gambia Investment and Export Promotion Agency. 

The government also provides training to allow women and the youth to upgrade their entrepreneurial skills, according to Barry.

The Ministry, through its publications of newsletters and magazines, features government reform programmes and highlights the activities of various institutions in the industry to increase public awareness for the benefit of MSME operators and features operators benefit from local and international exposure.

Partnership is the way forward

Mrs Barry pointed out that though most MSMEs see forming partnerships as a difficult decision due to issues of trust and loss sovereignty, it can enable them to become stronger and more competitive by specializing, sharing costs and becoming more efficient.

She said:  “Partnerships have the potential to aid businesses engage in a broader set of skills, ideas, resources and relationships than any one organization operating alone can accomplish and this can be critical for long-term success and sustainability.

“I am in full support of GCCI’s efforts in advocating the formation and strengthening of MSME partnerships, with a vision of synergies, allowing similarly driven businesses to work together to be more productive, yield more profits and returns for investors and contribute to the socio-economic development of our beloved nation.”