By Omar Bah
The Gambia Armed Forces has announced that it is about to embark on a multi-million dollar agricultural project that will achieve the long-cherished ambition of ending rice importation in the country within three years.
The military said the project will save the government up to D48 million it spends annually on purchasing rice for soldiers.
The GAF agricultural project focal person, Essa Tamba said: “With the partners we have and the type of production we want to embark on, if we are given all the support by the government, within three years this country will not import rice and the price will be cheaper. We are very confident.”
Tamba said the project will include animal husbandry and poultry, adding that they have already secured 50, 000 plots of land in the paddy fields of Central River Region other parts of the country. He said 30% of the workforce will be women and youth. He added that their South African partners, AGCO Group, is set to invest a whopping US$125 million into the project.
Asked what their partners seek to gain from investing such an amount in the project, Tamba said they are “not in the position to disclose the details of the agreement as it is currently negotiated at a higher level”.
After the news broke of army’s planned involvement in agriculture, several activists criticised the move as unwise. Activist Madi Jobarteh said if the army is allowed to engage in such ventures, GAF could become “too powerful” like the army in Egypt and hold an influential role in the country’s economy and politics.
But GAF spokesperson, Major Lamin Sanyang said the activists’ fears are unfounded.
“We understand that there are some uninformed quarters floating some outrageous ideas that GAF must be stopped from venturing into agriculture. I think it is time that some people are called by what they are – irresponsible – when issues of this nature are being discussed especially on national platforms,” he told journalists at the GAF headquarters yesterday.
“I wish to reiterate that no amount of innuendo or rhetoric can dissuade us from this cause. We are on a legal mission and anyone trying to stop GAF in this venture will be embarking on an illegal activity. The time for rhetoric is over; anyone who has an issue on this is kindly invited to join us in the farms this year,” he asserted.
PRO Sanyang further stressed that GAF is on course to go ahead with the agricultural project with or without any partners.
He said GAF’s current leadership is committed to have “a transformed, motivated, apolitical and non-tribally inclined armed force that is fully equipped and prepared to execute its constitutional roles”.
In a separate development, PRO Sanyang said GAF boasts of six qualified medical doctors, a dentist, 47 trained nurses, four public health officers, four pharmacy technicians, 10 lab technicians, two X-ray technicians, specialists and consultants.
“With this calibre of medical personnel, there are plans to establish a military hospital in this country that will give access to standard medical outreach to both the military and civilians. It is only in The Gambia that we do not have a military hospital; therefore I don’t think it will be out of place to support the GAF in establishing a military hospital,” he said.