By Tabora Bojang
The deputy chief of defence staff of The Gambia Armed Forces, Brigadier General Mamat Cham has disclosed that GAF’s proposed multi-million-dollar project with South African partners AGCO group, has collapsed because it does not represent Gambia’s “vital national interest.”
Cham made this disclosure during a vegetable harvesting exercise at the GAF Banjulinding gardens yesterday.
News of the army’s planned involvement in agriculture broke out last year and the AGCO group was said to be willing to invest about $120 million into the project which also included animal husbandry and poultry, with the army saying it could save the government up to D48 million it spends on purchasing rice for soldiers annually.
But according to deputy CDS Cham, GAF declined the offer because they believe it does not present a win-win situation for the army. “Our announcement was very clear. We had partners who came in and approached us that they have got the technical and financial capacity to support and partner with the Armed Forces to venture into agriculture. They later came with a Memorandum of Understanding which we reviewed and also proposed our own amendments to ensure it is a win-win thing but just because we desire to venture into large scale agriculture does not mean we should go into unfavorable agreements. The negotiations did not get on well and the partnership eventually collapsed. In our assessment it was not something that we thought we should go into because it was not representing our vital national interest and as patriotic soldiers, we cannot go into anything that will compromise the interest of this country or the armed forces,” Brigadier General Cham explained.
Cham however noted that despite these developments, the army’s ambition of venturing into agriculture, principally rice production, remains a lively dream.
“Our doors are still open and the dream is still alive. We have secured enough land in CRR and we are also reviewing some project documents that will need some capital outlays which we are now trying to work out with our Ministry”, he added.
Meanwhile, the deputy CDS also presided over the maiden harvesting of vegetables at the GAF gardens in Banjulinding which was started as a pilot project by the army chief Yakuba Drammeh in June as part of the GAF commitment to venture into meaningful agricultural production.
The production was carried out by 26 soldiers selected from various army units across the country joined by some civilians.
The harvested vegetables include bitter tomatoes, garden eggs and okra among other vegetables expected to supplement feeding and provide nutrition for soldiers.
Speaking at the farm deputy CDS Cham said: “This is just a pilot project and if we can yield such a good harvest it goes to show that our dream of going into the agricultural value chain precisely in the production of rice into the CRR is a feasible option and we want to use the occasion to call on Gambians and organisations to support GAF into activities within our constitutional mandate to join us in this venture.”
He said the army is not trying to compete anybody through its agricultural activities, saying like all other armed forces they ventured into these activities to support the socio-economic development of the country.