By: Abdoulai G. Dibba
The Gambian economy largely depends on Agriculture however inadequate budgetary allocation is hindering food security in the country.
A rice fields in CRR
Rice which is a staple food the people of this country, has long been an important food grain and is traditionally cultivated both in upland areas and in the seasonally flooded swamps, which lie adjacent to the River Gambia and its tributaries.
Per capita consumption of the staple food (rice), of the country is 117 kilogramme.
The total national requirement of rice is 200,000 metric tons per year.
However, Rice production in the country fails to match demand as only some 18-20% of total rice consumption originates from local production, with the balance made up from import and food aid.
Production on the small-irrigated fields had decreased due to a number of technical and socioeconomic constraints facing such production systems.
According to the president of the Central River Region (CRR) Rice Farmers Association, Haruna Gassama, the challenges confronting them as rice farmers are fertilizers, floods, farm implements and seeds.
He informed this medium that 1350 hectares of rice fields in pancharr perimeter were uncultivated in the 2017 cropping season due to the flood.
CRR Rice farmers president noted that at the moment, they have signed a Tripartite Agreement between his Co-operative Society, Maruo Farms and Supersonicz Micro-finance in which Supersonicz Micro-finance will provide us with ploughing services, seeds, and fertilizer and Maruo Farm will buy their produce.
However, he said, this is not enough to ensure food security as there are 4,000 plus farmers working in the Jahally-Pancharr perimeter who are not part of this agreement. The agreement, he said, covers only 200 farmers.
“We call on the government to invest in agriculture in order to address the challenges in the sector to ensure food security,” he concluded.
According to Musa Darboe, Chief Executive Officer of Maruo farm, the biggest challenge for any investors in the Agriculture Sector is land.
“By land I do not mean how much land you can access but I mean in terms of land preparation. We do not have engineers who have the capacity to do the land preparation that we need,” he stated.
“If we do not build the capacity of our engineers for land preparation,” Mr. Darboe said, “we will spend all the money that we have, but we will never achieve the land that we need for mechanised Agriculture.”
Apart from land preparation he said, the next challenge is equipment.
Maruo farm Chief Executive Officer noted that there is need to set agriculture into high gear equipment in order to mechanize the Agriculture sector.
Mr. Darboe pointed out “if we mechanize the Agriculture sector by getting proper land development, high gear equipment, and high yield seed varieties, then we are set for food security because this is a small country.
Darboe was asked: Taking into consideration that the Gambia needs 200,000 metric tons of rice do you think with proper land preparation, high gear equipment, and high yield seed variety to use your very words, we will achieve food security if yes, what time frame?
“If you do the maths,” Darboe said, “let us say we have the proper land preparation, the high gear equipment with high yield varieties because right now our farmers are producing about 2 to 3 tons per hectare and that he was able to get 7.4 tons from his plot and the rice variety has the potential of about 10 tons.
“Now let’s say, if we prepare 10,000 hectares and cultivate thrice a year because that is possible as I tried it; and we produced 5 tons per hectare, we will be producing 150,000 metric tons annually and in 5 years, we will achieve food security.”
The Regional Agriculture Director for Central River Region South, Famara Trawally, said Land preparation is essential for any rice-growing ecology especially Central River Region, but it is a major constraint in the region because they do not have a tractor at the Directorate.
He noted that the green tractors they had before were politicized and during the commission they were auctioned.
According to him, they are now handling the constraints at the regional directorate level through a tripartite agreement among 200 farmers, Suppersonicz and Maruo Farm.
“In this tripartite agreement,” he said, “Supersonicz will provide the farmers with ploughing services, seeds and fertilizer and Maruo Farm will buy the produce of the farmers at a farmgate price.”
He said Supersonicz will provide all these services to the farmers on loan and the farmers will pay in kind after harvest.
“These are what the farmers need to boost production in order to ensure food security and government should think of a model which will help them to partner with the private sector to provide the farmers with these services since the allocation to agriculture is not adequate to address such,” he posited.
“That is what we are advocating for, for farmers to have these services on time because, in agricultural production, all the stages are time bound,” he emphasised.
CRR South Regional Director pointed out that the vegetative, the reproductive and the reaping are all-time bound and therefore it is significant for the government to partner with the private sector so that farmers can get these services on time.
Trawally noted that the reproductive and the reaping stage are constant, which is 30 to 31 days, regardless of variety and the only difference is the vegetative stage. That is why, he went on to say, “you need to do your calculation right and do all your cultivation practice on timely bases.”
He noted that “if you are late in ploughing, all the other subsequent activities will be late and at the end of the day, you have a low yield which will not enhance food security”.
These constraints highlighted in all these interviews will create serious threats for the Gambia in achieving food security and budget allocation in Agriculture therefore; the authorities must keep those challenges in mind.
Hence, adequate allocation is needed to “enhance our capacity to face these challenges in the future”.
Unfortunately, the proposed budget does not seem to consider those challenges.
Going by the 2020 revised estimates, one would discover that the development budget has been decreased from D3,693,103,705 in 2019 to D2,282,969,484 in 2020.
This reduction in the budget has impacted negatively on the allocation of the key challenges facing the achievement of food security.
For example, under the Agricultural Technical Services, only D21 million has been allocated for irrigation equipment.
Under 0623, building resilience against food and nutrition insecurity, the budget has been reduced from D364,311,780 in 2019 to D296,973,766, all the allocation is for operational cost and no allocation to address the issue of food security.
Under 0609, the Planning Series Unit, the budget has been decreased from D2million to D1,800,000 according to the 2020 revised estimates; for which D1million is allocated for Agricultural inputs and D800,000 for land levelling and fencing.
Under 0644, Pro-Production and Production and Productivity Project, D25,665,310 is allocated of which D3,377,910 is allocated for maintenance of plants and machinery; D2,600,000 is allocated for Agricultural inputs; D2,000,000 for irrigation equipment and the rest goes to Construction of office buildings, training, furniture, and fittings, etc.
Under 0645, Strategy Policy and Management Development Project an allocation of D60,716,000 is made, of which D3,150,000 is allocated for maintenance of plants and machinery; D42,500,000 is allocated for Agricultural inputs; and D2,500,000 is for irrigation equipment and the rest goes for project evaluation and monitoring, Training, etc.
Under 0646, Development of Agriculture Value Chain and Market, an allocation of D2,710,000 is made; of which D1 million is for training and D1,710,000 is for ICT Infrastructure, hardware, network and facilities, and nothing is allocated for addressing the challenges of food security.
Under 0648, Rice Value Chain Development Project, an allocation of D208,092,977 as operational cost is set aside of which government invested in D5 million and the African Development Bank invested in D203,092,977; nothing is allocated for the rehabilitation of the Kuntaur Rice Milling Machine and rice packaging materials.
Going by all these, one can say that the proposed budget does not seem to consider the challenges facing food security.
This is precisely the reason why the Director-General of the Department of Agriculture Dr. Saikou Sanyang said that it has been very difficult for the Agricultural sector in terms of budget allocation over the years.
He noted that the budget that has been allocated to Agriculture is small compared to other sectors.
“This year, what I have seen in the 2020 draft estimates of the budget is far less than what we are expecting and for us to make headway in boosting the production and productivity of the farmers to ensure food and nutrition security in this country, we need to consider the budget allocation to Agriculture” DG Sanyang remarked.
Some time ago he said, they had a meeting with the IMF mission and he was talking to them about the Maputo declaration which indicated that 10 percent of the national budget should be allocated to Agriculture.
DG Sanyang pointed out that other countries are doing it so why not the Gambia, since they all know that Agriculture is the base for any economic development in any developing country.
“If the Agricultural sector is supported or strengthen, we will make headway in boosting the economy of this country, simply because it will help us to support our rural farmers to boost up their production and productivity thereby ensuring food and nutrition security,” he noted.
If the adequate budgetary allocation is given to Agriculture, Sanyang went on, it will help the farmers in the rural communities to increase their income and if their income is increased, that will also improve the local economy.
So the budget allocation to Agriculture needs to be revisited so that the constraints in the Agriculture sector could be addressed for the country to attain food security, he concluded.