The Barrow administration has told farmers that measures are being instituted to do a comprehensive transformation of the country’s agriculture in the context of the National Development plan (NDP 2018-2021). Speaking at various meeting centers across the North Bank Region as part of the ongoing presidential nationwide tour, the Minister of Agriculture, Lamin N. Dibba, said the chronic problems of the country’s agricultural sector cannot be solved in piecemeal. Rather, a comprehensive all-inclusive strategy that cuts across different sectors will deliver a sustainable solution to the said problem.
Addressing concerns raised by farmers about the availability and cost of fertilizers, Minister Dibba said government will subsidize the cost of fertilizer by almost 70 percent to ease timely access. He announced that fifteen truckloads of fertilizers have already been dispatched for distribution to farmers. However, he was quick to warn farmers to be wary of middle men who would buy the fertilizers at subsidized price from the government and in turn resell the same to farmers at higher costs.
As part of the plan, the Hon. Ministers announced that the government would address the acute shortage of seeds and seedlings that farmers bemoaned at various places. He said the government would augment seed banks across the country to ensure adequate supply of seeds for farmers to use during the farming season. The Minister, however, urged the farmers to always put in place contingency measures that would ensure they never run out of seeds given that government may not be in a position to be providing seeds every year. He called on the farmers to consult with agricultural extension service workers to pick out and reserve the best part of their harvest for use the following season. He warned that time would come when government supplying seed supplies would only be limited to emergency situations such as crop failures.
Regarding the purchase of groundnuts, the minister said, going forward, the prices of groundnuts would be announced even before the harvest season starts while promising that the government would never venture into credit buying. “Gambia has the right international muscle to bring investors that will purchase nuts for exports, or create local avenues to access funds to purchase from farmers,” he added.
He said it saddens the new government that despite such a big potential in agriculture, the country’s youths were on massive outflow to Europe due to lack of employment opportunities. Dibba He urges them to be steadfast and be ready to be active participants in the rebuilding of the country, take advantage of the new opportunities being created here.
Agriculture is considered the backbone of the Gambia’s economy, provides employment for 70 per cent of the population, exports and foreign exchange earnings for the economy and food security for the citizens. That is why the infrastructure projects such as road networks, tourism master-plan and other sectoral strategies being implemented by the government will become key to this agricultural development plan.
Hon. Dibba advanced that there is a greater nexus between agriculture and other sectors of development which is why the government is adopting an all-inclusive integrated approach to development.
He outlined that stable power supply that is expanding across the country would also be crucial in the agro-processing and agricultural value chain. He encouraged the farmers to view agriculture as a potential commercial venture where processing and packaging would be the end product of their produce.
The minister said agriculture is a great foreign exchange earner for the country and such, government will support industries that will boost its potential for maximum benefits to the country.
The tourism sector is also a good consumer of horticultural products such as tomato, cucumber, carrots, salad, green pepper and cabbage. The same can be said of poultry and livestock products. The ministries of tourism and agriculture and drawing up an agreement to enable the producers supply the hotels directly. Such would reduce imports of the products that are grown here and create markets for the producers.
The agro-forestry sector is also given the utmost attention, the minister added. He explained that some wild fruits that are growing in our forests are so appetizing and healthy for consumers that they would be processed into juices and other products that can also be sold in supermarkets. In this way, products will be packaged, sold on supermarket shelves and consumed instead of just exporting as raw materials.