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VP Njie-Saidy calls for more focus on agriculture

Jun 8, 2010, 11:23 AM | Article By: Alieu O. Jabang

The Vice-President and Minister of Women's Affairs, Isatou Njie-Saidy, has called for continued and a more vigorous focus on agriculture for national economic development.

VP Njie-Saidy made the call when she officially opened the 8th Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors of the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development, held at the Kairaba Beach Hotel yesterday.

"Recent economic developments clearly indicate that our growth was mainly agriculture-driven. It emphasises the critical role of agricultural development in boosting overall economic growth, and in ensuring food security, in reducing reliance on food imports, in generating employment and in eradicating poverty and hunger at a faster speed under the Millennium Development Goals initiative."

Noting that there needs to be continuing focus on agriculture, and with more vigour, the Vice-President said good performance in the agricultural sector points to economic diversification and resilience from external shocks, and is veritable strategy to shield the poorest in the country, who are mostly dependent on agriculture.

VP Njie-Saidy also stated that the share of agriculture in GDP has increased from 2.6 percent in 2007 to 25.3 percent in 2009. She said the share of industry declined from 14.7 percent to 13.2 percent, while that of services declined from 63.7 percent to 61.5 percent during the same period.

The increase in agriculture’s share, she stated, was on account of the increased share of crops, while the decline of the services shared, was mainly due to a decline in the whole sale and retail trades, as well as transport and communications.

In her view, the sharp decline in global economic activity had adversely impacted on the Gambian economy in 2008, leading to a decline in exports, remittances, manufacturing production, and in the whole sale and retail trade.

However, she further stated, "thanks to the very good performance of agricultural production, supported by a bumper rice harvest, and good performance by electricity, telecommunications and the financial sector, the growth rate of real GDP improved from 6 percent in 2007 to 6.3 percent in 2008.

"Despite the global financial crisis, the Gambian banking industry is expanding significantly and remains sound as it does not have significant liabilities. Total assets of commercial banks increased by 18.7 percent from 12.5 billion at end December 2008 to 14.8 billion at end-December 2009," she stated.

The banking industry's overall capital adequacy ratio and assets quality are satisfactory, she added, while the industry's average risk-weighted capital adequacy ratio was 18.1 percent at the end-December 2009, well above the statutory requirement of 8 percent.

The banks, which stand at 14 in the country, she said, enabled a significant increase in loans and advances to various sectors by 25.3 percent to D4.4 billion in December 2009 from D3.5 billion in December 2008.

While credit to agriculture increased by 87 percent, she said, manufacturing was up by 105 percent, as the distributive trade saw a 22.7 percent increase.

"Therefore, our strategies for accelerated growth would still be led by the much heralded, but yet to be realised private enterprise, supported by private-public partnerships and highly selective public participation," he stated.

The government's role, she added, would be to kick-start the private sector and, therefore, must always be accompanied by an exit strategy.

"The prime mover behind higher economic growth is always investment. The preferred areas of these investments are agriculture, energy and manufacturing with the appropriate technology to suit our conditions.

"In essence, agro and agric businesses, to add value to our agricultural production and the development of micro, small and medium enterprises, as well as women’s empowerment.

"Undoubtedly, in our part of the world, a job-friendly growth strategy that can have an impact on poverty eradication must necessarily involved the strengthening of those enterprises," she continued.

The Vice-President finally challenged EBID's Board of Governors, and EBID as a development finance institution to put more emphasis on championing poverty reduction strategies, and investing in high impact development projects, so as to enable community member states reach a middle income status.

The Minister of Finance, Momodou S. Foon, in his statement, reminded the delegates that the EBID was established in 1999, and started operations in 2004, as the holding company for the ECOWAS Regional Development Fund and the ECOWAS Investment Bank (ERIB) for financing the public and private sectors, respectively.

This was with a vision to make it the leader in financing investment and development in West Africa.

The authorised capital of the group, he said, is 603 million UA or the equivalent of US$ 750 million, and 402 million UA million WAS subscribed with a called-up capital of 147 UA and, of which 24.2 UA stands unpaid.

Other speakers included the President of EBID, Christian N. Adovelande, and the representative of the Chairman of the Board of Governors of EBID, Oussou Kouassy.

The vote of thanks was delivered by Ms. Naffie Barry, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Trade, Regional Integration and Employment, on behalf of the Minister.