Jan 25, 2021, 12:49 PM
Fulfilling the hopes and aspirations of Gambians for food security has been a daunting task for the governments of three republics. The food security situation continues to be a national headache. In spite of donor assistance which complements the efforts of government, it can be said, in reference to the country, that“An army marches on its stomach” – Napoleon.
The people are still hungry and the country is in dire need of food security. Perhaps, therefore, the approach to agricultural development should be reexamined. There has been too much focus on helping small holder farmers in the country. It must be stated that subsistence farming cannot end hunger and poverty. It only serves as a temporary relief to domestic consumption needs.
Leaving agriculture activities in the hands of farmers, with all the constraints of farm implements, fertilizer problems and problems with other inputs such as seeds, etc. cannot ensure food security. Why do we continue to adopt policy instruments that do not enhance sustainable livelihoods? Let us look at the objective realities on the ground. This is largely an illiterate farming community whose understanding on the fundamentals of proper farming methods and practices is low.
Those considered as rich Gambians do not invest in agriculture. The youths are not interested in going into the farmlands. The farming environment is largely based on rain-fed agriculture. It is the very few from the diaspora who venture into agriculture. Therefore, under the circumstances, commercial agriculture is the logical option. In this regard, the full scientific knowledge and expertise of the department of Agricultural Services together with NARI should be employed by the government in a decisive manner to engage in commercial agriculture with all the instruments of production.
This should lead to the emergence of STATE FARMS in various fields such as rice, groundnuts, maize, wheat, cottons, onions, potatoes, sorghum, vegetables, livestock, and other essential commodities. A timeline of 2025 should be set by government for the country to be self-sufficient in food. Where necessary, the government can seek technical assistance from friendly countries with a track record in agricultural transformation. All donor assistance and funding should be directed to this national endeavor. The River Gambia is there for irrigation agriculture.
There will be a need for the mapping of all STATE FARMLANDS for commercial production as per the fields identified. It should be unacceptable for Ukraine or the global food crisis to continue to hit the country. This plan of action is the only way out of food insecurity and dependency on food importation. Alongside this strategy, government should encourage foreign direct investment and raise exports to earn the much needed foreign exchange earnings. Europe and Asia developed their agriculture economies first before industrialization. America feeds herself, India feeds herself, China feeds herself. Why can’t The Gambia, a small nation, feed herself? The answer is in our hands.
Our greatest legacy would be if the country attains food security by the year 2025. Agriculture is either the key or answer to sustainable development. Import orientation makes the rich become richer and domestic production frees the people from poverty and creates a healthy nation and a sound economy. The Gambia must decide which option to go by.