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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Filling the food basket of the country to the brim; Gambia’s food security situation needs a rethink of the strategy

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By Modou Sarr
(International Consultant –Monitoring and Evaluation

The global food security situation in recent times has seen rising cost of foods (food inflations) reaching alarming rates. The root causes are linked to droughts, COVID-19 and most recently the Russia and Ukraine war which is affecting not only production but also supply chains (food governance). With the global call for improved food governance, there is a dire need for also local level actions to address the pandemic. 

The right to food has since 1945 been declared as a fundamental human right and many countries have domesticated it but has the Gambia done so? Since then and following the World Food Summit in 1996, Food security has become a morale right and is intricately linked to sovereignty.

It is important to note that, human development begins where household food security ends.  Naturally, man is food linked which is why research has shown that the body of man is the product of what he eats. It (food) determines his output which also determines his level of technological development.  To a certain extent, man is an animal, just put him in a luxurious space; deprive him of food and measure his sense of reasoning?

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The provision of adequate quality foods on the table at all times (food security) is a pre-requisite for any nation’s development. In recent times, food price escalations across the globe is creating shocks both social and economic for national governments. In the Gambia our food insecurity status has doubled according the recent findings by WFP 2022 food security Report- Household food insecurity: 13.4% in 2021 (CFSVA, 2021).  This is a major cause for concern as it has multidimensional effects on our overall growth and development in terms of mal nutrition and its attendant effects on women, children and the elderly (stunting, women reproductive health and more cases of non-communicable disease – diabetics)

As the global food pandemic continues to rear its ugly heads just like the COVID 19 did, both developed and developing countries will continue to face steeper economic growths and financial resources. As a consequence; there will be increasing debt burdens and this must serve as a pointer especially for the developing countries like the Gambia to   encourage more local resources mobilisation targeting Gambians private sector and those in the Diaspora to invest in Agriculture and our food systems.

Localising our agriculture and food systems is the only viable option to tackle this current paralysis in food security and to avert a generational tragedy on our children due to mal nutrition as well as to improve our sovereignty as a nation.  

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The production of local food stuffs; of plants and animals based on our local context and reality will be critical in the coming years. The Gambia has the agriculture potentials (the youths, the arable land – estimate 440,000ha for irrigation, favourable weather conditions for lowland, dry season production from residual moisture and thanks to the donor community (WB, IFAD, ADB, FAO, IDB) for their sustained willingness to finance agriculture of projects in the range of  250-400 million  in every five years !

The one million dollar question is; amidst all is abundancies of the physical environment, the human resources (available cheap labour) and the financing, the Gambia’s agriculture production continues to decline per person annually. This predicament threatens not only to perpetuate our poverty especially for the rural but also the urban populace and forestalls our overall prospects for development.

It is a  known fact that the current problems in the agriculture sector is largely on the side of effective implementation especially of projects and this requires a national rethinking  of this policy strategy .Since independence, the farming community has been a reservoir of drama for various agriculture projects each with their image style of what to offer. The end of the drama show has always been and is: we are still where you found us or in some cases worst that before! Is this a curse or blessing to have donors investing our Agriculture? 

In order for us to get away from endemic food insecurity, the business as usual focusing on projects- based approaches will not solve of lingering food insecurity. There is a need to re-model our development approach using program-based to strengthen our institutions (departments, rural communities structures established by Acts/Law) , improve quality of service delivery with the use of digital technology and foster a lucrative / incentivised public private partnership to increase production and enhance productivity.

There is no doubt about the robustness of our agriculture policies e.g- ANR 2017-2026 policy and plans – GNIAP 2019-2026, but the intercessor: our Agriculture Sector Strategies are albeit weak or not working.

The consequence of these weakness is that, to date, there are very limited and in many cases; no independently verifiable impact of the intervention measures. The proliferation of project implementation silos camouflaged in the name of departmental/ institutional mainstreaming is not also working as these are ad-hoc arrangements based on the project live span. This trend will need to be reviewed else there will be no magical bullet to reduce the impact of food in security on the country. Additionally, our agriculture needs to increase food production by 60-70% above current levels in the coming years in line with the projected population increase to 3, 018 million by 2030 and 4, 758million by 2050 because relying on imports will not be the solution.

About the Author

Modou Sarr is a well-grounded Expert in Agriculture and Rural Development spanning 30 years. He holds a Bachelors of Agriculture Hons Degree from Nigeria and a Masters in Food Security and International Food Governance from Spain. He has written many agriculture and rural development articles first with the Gambia Daily Observer Farmer’s Column 1993-1994 and later Anchor-man/ weekly Columnist with Point Newspaper: Farmers Column from 1995-2005

Dedicated to my good friends: Deyda Hydra who published by last article on the eve of his demise and Jonkunda Daffeh, my learned editor

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