Abdoulai G. Dibba
A four year EU funded project on“Agriculture for Economic Growth”, was introduced to stakeholders on Tuesday 4th September 2018, at a local hotel in Bijilo.
According to the organisers, the project is funded by the European Union for a duration of forty eight months and is being implemented by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), in close partnership with the Government Ministries of Agriculture, Trade and Employment, Health and Social Welfare, Youth and Sport, Basic and Secondary Education, Works and Infrastructure and Forestry, Natural Resources and Climate Change.
The overall objective of the project according to the Organisers, is to contribute to sustainable growth in the agricultural sector, and reduce food insecurity and malnutrition, in order to create an enabling environment for improved economic growth; that the project aims to invest in a market stimulation approach, to provide the pull factor that drives the commercialization of production.
In his statement at the opening, the representative of the EU Delegation to the Gambia said at the start of the 2017, the EU decided to allocate 20.5 Million EURO to the Gambia, for the project in order to create growth and employment opportunities, in particular for women and youth, through improved agricultural productivity as well as access to food, and to increase the most vulnerable smallholders’ participation, in the valued chains.
The EU representative Mr. Sexell, told stakeholders that the project recognises the need for enhance information systems, as well as crises management and prevention to build resilience; that the large number of youth who have gone overland to Europe or who are tempted to try the hazardous journey, are predominantly low skilled young males seeking better economic prospects; that they often come from large rural community families living in poverty, requiring better job opportunities and life prospects to stay in the country.
Sexell said the project recognizes areas of potential improvement in research and extension, that could upgrade farming practices and pest control, higher yields, larger arable land irrigation, better storage facilities and other infrastructure, enhance entrepreneurial culture, improve access to markets, market information and especially access to finance, credit and insurance, better food safety and quality control, increase smallholders producers participation in value chain and end-markets, improve value-addition and processing facilities, and improve organization and policy frame works for cooperatives.
On her part, FAO Country Rep. Dr perpetua Katepa-Kalala, indicated that since 2013, overland migration to Europe has grown significantly; that in 2015, 8,500 Gambians sought asylum in Italy, equivalent to around 0.5% of the entire Gambian population; that in the first six months of 2016, Gambia remained the third highest country of origin for migrant arrivals in Italy, ranked after Nigeria and Somalia.
“This large exodus of youth from rural regions, resulted in marked reduction in agriculture and labour supply, affecting output and quality of agricultural produce,” she noted.
Dr. Kalala asserted that since the launch of the project in May 2018 in Farafenni, FAO and partners have attained the following in support of project objectives:
- Updated National Seed Policy, which has been adopted printed and disseminated by MOA;
- trained National Seed Secretariat staff members on Seed certification through Technical Assistance;
- approved National variety catalogue, Volume 1, by Varietal Release Committee (VRC), to be printed for dissemination;
- organized First National Seed Fair was in June 2018 at Farafenni;
- conducted Assessment of agricultural extension service delivery by National and International consultants, which report will be discussed with MOA soon;
- monitoring and strengthening of 375 FFS trained facilitators under Envelop B, through the provision of mobility and supporting 40 best trained FFS facilitators as Master trainers to provide extension service in surrounding communities;
- supported 10,633 vulnerable farmers with seeds and fertilizer for 2018 cropping season
- assessed and appraised 10 community gardens for technical support
- identified 40 km roads to connect community gardens to highways and arrange contractual agreements.
On his part, DPS for Agriculture Omar Jammeh, asserted that while agriculture in the Gambia is the main source of income for rural communities, it has been characterized by low production and productivity.
“Generally, agricultural yields are lower than the West African average and there is relatively a wide yield gap among major crops. For instance, average yields of coarse grains declined slightly between 2008 and 2013. Rice yields declined more than those of coarse grains. Domestic production covers about 30% of country’s needs for rice,” he stated.
‘‘The low performance of agriculture,’’ DPS Jammeh went on, ‘‘is due to a range of factors, including: an unfavourable macro-fiscal stance in recent years, a weak policy and institutional framework, insufficient budgets (capital and recurrent), difficult access to modern inputs and to finance, ineffective research and poor agriculture extension advisory services, rainfall variability and climate shocks, lack of transport and market infrastructures, limited irrigation, high post-harvest losses due to poor handling, inappropriate storage, high levels of aflatoxin contamination, and low levels of application of food safety management systems along the value chains.’’
DPS Bintou Samateh Minteh of the Vice President’s Office, said some may wonder why the Office of the Vice President is coming to the inception workshop of Agriculture for Economic Growth; that they should understand that the project aims to contribute to sustainable growth through improved agricultural production/productivity, and reduce food insecurity and malnutrition, to mitigate migration flows to Europe.
She said one cannot talk about agricultural production/productivity and side line the women who are the majority of the farming community in the Gambia; that the Office of the Vice President is holding the portfolio of Women Affairs and thus their presence at the occasion.