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Apr 14, 2008, 5:48 AM | Article By: Tombong Saidy - AmRa

There is an impending rice crisis in the making world wide and the peoplesof Haiti, Bangladesh, Philippineshave already began feeling the pinch of this world crisis. Rice is the staple food for billions of people, particularly the poorest people in the world. Majority of the peoples of China, India, Asia in General, the Middle East and Africa consume rice as their main staple food. In The Gambia, rice is it. The majority of Gambians find it extremely difficult not to consume rice for 24 hours and this is demonstrated by the amount of rice imported in this country annually.

Governments in Asia have started taking the necessary actions in the various countries to deal with these impending rice crises. India, which is a major exporter of rice, have banned the exportation of none basmati price, thus ensuring not only sufficient supplies for the nation's poorest but also suppressing the rising price of rice domestically. The Philippines, which imports a major supply of its rice needs, have also started negotiating with other major rice exporting nations to ensure enough supplies for its people.

The Gambia being a major consumer and importer of rice needs to react on time to ameliorate and soften the blow of the impending rice crisis. The Gambia like most countries in the world allows market forces to determine the supply, demand and price of rice, however, as the saying goes "desperate situation demands desperate measures", the government, private sector and the consumers should act immediately in preparation of this inevitable shortage of rice that is facing the world. The prices of foodstuff have increased drastically throughout the world and Gambians are already feeling it despite the strengthening Dalasi. There should be a multi-facetted and coordinated actions by all stakeholders and the government should take the lead.

We have already started witnessing actions of the people in Haiti, Ivory Coast and closer to home, Senegal and all in reaction to the rising prices of foodstuff. The Government should start now by first suspending all kinds of duties on imported foodstuff. All taxes, import duties, sales tax, environment tax, Ecowas tax etc should be suspended immediately and not only that, but should also be announced so that all stake holders will be aware of this noble action of the government. The Gambia Ports Authority should also reduce its port charges for imported foodstuff. All these will have major effects on the situation at hand. Firstly, it will give the importers more confidence to import more foodstuffs, particularly rice and secondly, the prices of rice and other foodstuff will not rise as rapidly as it would otherwise. Thirdly, it would ensure that there would not be a serious shortage.

The government should not only stop at the above actions, but should encourage the commercial banks to reduce their interest rates on all LCs (letters of credit) for foodstuff, particularly rice. The Central Bank should use its influence to work with the commercial banks and come up with low interest rate on all LCs dealing with foodstuff, preferably to as low as 8%. I know there would be some businesspersons, who would take advantage of this to abuse the facilities, but this should not deter us from doing so and besides with proper planning and consultation, the right mechanism could be put in place counter such actions.

The President, H.E. Alh. Dr. Yahya A. J. Jammeh have been asking people to change their eating habit for a long time now, however saying it in rallies and meetings is not enough. Government should come up with a comprehensive programme to educate the people about the need to change our eating habits. There are many benefits to it, especially when one looks into the health implications. GRTS could work with the relevant government departments to come up with very good educative programmes on the need for people to change their eating habits and reduce the dependant on rice in general. NGOs and other private organisations could be used as well, especially the private radio stations. Government could work the private radio stations to urge and encourage them to come up with programmes on this as part of their social contributions among many they are already doing.

Lastly but not the least the government should critically look into the food self-sufficiency rhetoric and start taking concrete actions. The government should start by seriously looking into the Kuntaur Rice Mill. This is one institution, which if properly funded and managed, would make a big difference in this effort for food self-sufficiency. This is a sleeping giant and its time to wake it up and put it to work.

The private sector, through the Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry could be urged to ensure that there is sufficient supply of foodstuff in the country in the next few months especially during the rainy seasons. A coordinated effort by the GCCI and total support by Government would go a long way in helping deal with this impending crisis.There should be a certain level of rice stock in the country at all times to avert shortages and the resulting higher prices. I am quite sure with proper planning and dialogue between government and the private sector, this can be achieved. The Government should not get into importing and selling rice but should make the environment conducive for the private sector to do that.

The people of this country should also play their role by looking to their eating habits and dependency on rice. We could drastically reduce our consumption of rice and increase our consumption of other foodstuff grown locally such as coos, corn, vegetables, yam, findi, cassava and many other locally grown foodstuffs. We do not need to eat rice three times a day as most of us do. Poverty explains some of our actions, however, we can still alter our eating habits to reduce our dependency on imported food and at the same time reduce the health risks related with certain foodstuff. By reducing for example our consumption of imported rice and increase our consumption of locally produced foodstuff, we will be empowering our local farmers and in the process assist in the fight against poverty.