The minister of agriculture, Omar Jallow, has said the focus of the new government is to rebuild the agriculture sector to make farming a commercial venture by making it competitive and rewarding as a business.
Agriculture is the highest contributor to the Gambia’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 70 per cent of the population depends on it for their livelihood.
However, the sector has suffered “a devastating, depleting effect” under the government of Yahya Jammeh, according to the agriculture minister.
“For example, the country has dropped in purchasing peanuts as our cash crop from 200,000 tons in 1994 to just 35,000 tons last year,” Hon. Jallow said. “Also, most of the qualified personnel of the sector are either dismissed or undergoing trial during the last regime.”
Before 1994, Hon. Jallow was the agriculture minister of the first republic, once serving as a farmer cooperative inspector in 1968.
Now as the leader of The Gambia’s independence party, he is one of the coalition leaders that unseated Jammeh in the December 2016 presidential elections.
When Jallow was in the cooperative movements, the societies were buying tons and tons of nuts by themselves. For example, some 50 years ago, the cooperative society in Njaba Kunda, a village about 75 kilometers on the south bank of the River Gambia, bought 5,800 tons of nuts by themselves. That represented the highest number of tons bought countrywide.
However, when Jammeh led a coup against the 30-year-old government of Sir Dawda Jawara, cooperatives were abolished.
“They [the Jammeh government] destroyed every foundation needed for cooperatives to take off. Some farmers began building their own consumer shops. That policy has to be revisited again,” Jallow said.
Direct all funds to the farmers
The agriculture minister said giving the current state of the Gambia’s agriculture sector, the coming of donors and investors to support the rebuilding process becomes very crucial.
“We have to use those funds to develop the industry. When you want to develop the industry, you start with the people (the beneficiaries). So our targets will be farmers. We need to do away with projects because in implementing projects, the bulk of the money goes to those managing the projects rather than the farmers,” he said.
Hon. Jallow said the new vision of the agriculture sector is to direct all funds to the farmers as beneficiaries, rather than what obtained under Jammeh. To do that, all the investors would have to go into partnerships with farmer groups and family farms.
When investors bring in machineries, farmers use their lands as collateral and they go into business. This new form of partnership is what now obtains in Senegal and some other African countries.
Mechanising unlocks potentials in the sector: for example, a tractor can do what 20 people cannot in a day. It saves labour; farmers can gain more, expand their farms and increase their productions.
“I am happy to have returned to the ministry I was serving prior to the 1994 coup. It is not just agriculture but all other sectors are depleted,” he said.