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Sunday, February 28, 2021

EMJ is right!

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The availability of such food should both be adequate and sustainable. Therefore, if the end of The Gambia’s recently-launched short-term national development blueprint Vision 16 is food security, production of rice enough for local consumption is just a means to it. For the country to attain food security, she must go beyond growing the rice she eats. She must also take charge of the processing and distribution of what she grows. It is through adding value to agricultural produce that the country can become an important player in the global agricultural value chain. Beyond production, processing and distribution, there is the need to protect and promote Made-in-Gambia.  

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Recent years have witnessed a number of World Trade Organisation-engineered international laws against what has become known as protectionism. The huge haul of agreements rolled out to direct this effort dictate against restraining trade between states. In essence, governments are obliged to afford ‘fair competition’ between imported goods and goods and services produced domestically. 


However, browse through history and you’ll discover that protectionism is not a new phenomenon. In fact, all the countries that have today become economic superpowers, from Japan to the US, not to mention China as an obvious example, have earned their enviable economic status through economic practices biased towards their home industries. They have had in place policies deliberately designed and pursued as it best suites their economic growth and development first, before opening up for players from outside. 


Why did Africa allow herself to remain the cow to be milked? For instance, while agriculture is starved of investment in spite of the commitment African leaders made in the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme, the continent imports more than US$40 billion annually. 


There is need to reverse this trend. True, governments are not sitting idly by. Efforts are being made. When the third edition of the Gambia Economic Forum was convened at Kairaba in 2012, the recommendations that emerged from there urged the government to temporally freeze the importation of chickens and other poultry products, at least, during that time in the year when local chicks are up for sale and consumption. Two years on today, Eddy Mass Jobe of EM Holdings was almost reading from the same hymn sheet and he got it all right. 


When it comes to poultry, importation is deleterious to our economy. The Gambia imports about 8,000,000 kilograms of frozen chickens annually. There used to be over 65 fully operational local poultry farms here in the country in the previous decade. Unfortunately, as of 2012, this number has reduced to 30. More than half of the existing poultry farms have been bullied out of business and the remaining ones have scaled down production. This is thanks, largely, to uncontrolled, and perhaps in unchecked importation of chickens.


It is clear that the environment is not conducive for local poultry farms to compete. Neither the programmes and policies of the government nor the attitude of the Gambian populace encourage vibrant local manufacturing industry. Local producers have to contend with rising and costly taxes. When the local producers factor in the cost of production – administrative costs and utility bills – in their pricing, it is obvious that the cost of locally produced poultry products would be a bit higher than imported ones. The Gambian, by practice, would go in for the cheaper option.


But it will be short-sighted and almost naive for The Gambia to continue relying on imported poultry products, thereby depriving the country of foreign exchange earning and lead to further years of grinding poverty for workers in precarious jobs blighted by low productivity. The government of The Gambia must appreciate the need to adopt strategies that would build on indigenous expertise and skills to increase growth.


Granted, the local manufacturers need to improve on quality and scale up production. But if first things should come first, the environment should be created for them to thrive. It primarily behooves the government and people to do so. The government on one hand should put in place policies biased towards local producers and the people on the other hand should stop falling for the myth that Made-in-Gambia is of low quality. 


There will be benefit galore with vibrant indigenous industries. The spread of wealth will go beyond the current elites and the much-need strong middle class will be built. Besides, steady and reliable flow of revenue will be accrued to the tax-dependent economy and more jobs will be created in a country where job opportunities are unacceptably lower than the demand for jobs. 


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