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Friday, April 19, 2024

Can we feed ourselves?

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By Musa Bah

For me, the Gambia Bureau of Statistics’ survey on National Food Security brought home a few poignant facts. I could not but think about it and make a few suggestions.  It was revealed in that report that one in every four households faces challenges in meeting their food needs. Twenty-nine percent of the population is food insecure and thirty-eight percent of households spend more than 75% of their monthly income on food.

In a nutshell, what the report is saying is that we cannot feed ourselves. This is sad considering the fact that we have a fertile land, we have the River Gambia, a good forest cover, we have sufficient rain in this country to make sure that we can cultivate enough food to feed ourselves and even export to the outside world.

The report also makes it clear that some of the causes of this unfortunate situation are climate-related issues, high food prices and loss of environment. I want to believe that most of these issues could have been resolved even before they became issues; and now that they have become issues of concern, they can be remedied with a little effort and commitment from all stakeholders.

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Firstly, we need to indigenise education and ensure that whatever we do reflects our culture and our needs. This includes agriculture and how it is taught in our school system.  It is sad that agriculture seems to be going down in the country as many people do not wish to engage in it anymore. However, if the right polices are put in place and the political will is there, it may not be very difficult to persuade the youth to go back to the land, as it were.

With little support from government, many young people can go back to farming and produce all we need to feed ourselves. There is enough arable land, enough water and expertise to make commercial agriculture a huge source of employment. This will drastically reduce the rate of unemployment in the country.

This will also have a positive impact on the health of the citizens as the imported food we consume has a lot to do with the many varied health issues we face now. One of the beauties of agriculture is that one will be able to eat fresh and natural food without having to pull out money. Whatever remains can then be sold to meet the other needs one may have.

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Let us take poultry farming as an example. A lot of people, but not enough, have now begun to realise that this is a very lucrative venture and are going into it. This provides them employment and gives them money to put in their pockets so they can solve their day to day problems without having to beg or take loans or things of that sort.

Go to any house in The Gambia nowadays and you are likely to be fed with chicken imported from God knows where. With the local industry thriving, people could be supplied enough chicken that is homegrown. This is healthier and more beneficial for everyone involved. The farmer will earn a living, perhaps employ other young people and pay taxes to the State for the benefit of all.

But, as they say, nothing good comes easy. We must undergo a certain type of sacrifice, some pain, austerity in order to develop our agriculture. One way of doing this is to study the local industry and see how much is being produced. How much is consumed. Work out the difference and make policies to gradually ban the importation of those items so that the local industry will grow.

The truth is that if one invests in one area and spends a lot of money, time and effort only to realise that they cannot compete with the market prices due to the huge importations of said items, one’s business is likely to fold. Of course, one can understand that government will not ban these food items until it is sure that we can produce enough of it. Thus, everyone has to have the understanding that ‘Ku buga akara \eme kaani’. We must be willing to sacrifice for the greater good.

Rice cultivation is perhaps one of the most urgent needs of the country. Technology and scientific research has come up with seed varieties which can produce so great a yield that a small area can feed a whole population.

There is absolutely no reason why The Gambia should not be able to produce enough rice for everyone. Rice is the staple food in The Gambia and thus if we produce enough of it, the cost will certainly reduce so that everyone will be able to afford it. If we cross that bridge, the rest will become a walk in the park.

Our focus must turn to feeding the nation.

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