#Article (Archive)

State Opening Of Parliament, the National Debate Goes On

Apr 7, 2009, 7:20 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 will be full to the door, and 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 drought shows its 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.

However if there are no seeds, if there is no fertilizer to enrich the soil, no amount of rain can bring us a bountiful harvest. This is why we are all optimistic and encouraged by His Excellency's statement that essential inputs will be provided on a timely basis.

Coming to agricultural production, it is not long back when agriculture used to be nicknamed in Gambian macro economic analysis as the "back bone of the economy".

It was for good reason. Good agricultural production not only fed families but also fueled export and concomitant export earnings necessary for the importation of basic commodities. The annual contribution of agriculture to GDP was invariably above the 40% mark.

Today agricultural production is declining even if gradually, and it is the combined sector of trade, tourism and natural resources that are increasingly making up for the 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 have now been lost. Before, farmers used to have access to qualitative seed varieties that were made readily available and distributed in a timely manner, months before the planting season. Crops could then be cultivated early enough to allow for optimal maturity before the end of the rains. Today the availability of good seeds is not guaranteed. When available they would be late for the rains.

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

Farmers end up lacking fertilizer to enrich effete soils.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 mechanized farming methods, agricultural production would have appreciated today not declined.

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

Farming should be widely mechanized even if the private sector has to establish a machinery rental scheme.

Credit-buying, in particular, should now seriously be made a thing of the past.

In the interest of agricultural production and economic growth as envisaged in Vision 2020, and exemplified in the President's call for 'Back to the Land', it is expected that appropriate allocation has been made in this year's budget. It is expected that the necessary agricultural services will be provided and put into operation for the realization of a successful season. We cannot produce potatoes at the level of the National Assembly alone.

"Food on the table is man's best friend"