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Thursday, June 20, 2024

The Gambia National Think Tank – is it really necessary?

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It is an axiom of development that government is the chief designer and administrator of the master plan. But only you and I and the rest of the people can execute the nuts and bolts of nation-building. Assuming our democratic political framework, persuasive debate then becomes terribly important. Government must convince all of us that the proposed Gambia National Think Tank (GNTT) as well as the proposed National Development Plan (NDP) are necessary. One way of doing this is to outline before our eyes, the scope of work and the expected output. Most of the things we are currently doing are really not necessary.

Development planners who contemplate the awesome task of lifting a nation by its bootstraps may muse on the merits of a more authoritarian form of government that can cut through indifference, sloth and indecision. They may merely be indulging in wishful thinking, however, for our history and accumulated values have already set our political course for us. There is no other recourse for a democratic government that sincerely wants development except to inform and motivate the citizenry, and therefore mobilise the popular commitment that it must have. I might add parenthetically that this is true as well for the rejuvenation of a self-reliant living standard.
I have always believed that the fundamental thrust of our national development can only be won in the rural areas. This belief should be reflected in our agro-rural development programmes/projects, if we are to be relevant. It is a development thrust that MUST be based on what is known as YIELD. This is the farmer’s income as well as his currency. Considering our total failure in this domain, we need to create a moratorium on new agricultural development proogrammes/projects in favour of a consolidation-cum-consultation phase. This contribution comes with the following messages:-

· the New Gambia will not be able to generate increased commodity production merely by launching more donor and lending institution funded agricultural development projects (ADPs) and/or domestic projects modeled on those that have been implemented and failed so many times in the past.
· The failure of the Second Republic to reinforce the agricultural delivery systems that serve the specific needs of the numerically dominant smallholder producers underlies the decline in agriculture in the country. A major cause of this failure is the complexity of the production environment (which the Second Republic’s leadership refused to understand) in which these systems must operate. Production units are dispersed with low levels of yield and money income, little or no savings, and capital. Purchase of inputs and sales of outputs are small and vary widely by seasons. The biological and seasonal nature of agricultural production, poor communications, and limited infrastructure add further complexity.

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· Lack of policy (the current policy is incomplete) and of commodity development guidelines, financial support and of essential complementary agricultural development services and facilities continues to severely limit achievement of agricultural development. The recent impact assessment of IFAD’s GMD 2.8 Billion over the years showed pervasive poverty, that is, poverty seen and felt everywhere. The result of this impact assessment could be the same for all the donor and lending institution investments in the agro-rural sector.
· Past and recent foreign assistance (grants and loans) to the country has been massive in quantity and therefore highly influential on national policies. But it has been largely ineffectual in increasing domestic food production, frequently misallocating capital toward the non-agricultural sector and away from the food sector. Through choice of projects, capital has also been grossly misallocated within the food sector. Aid has contributed to the de facto lack of strategy in the country’s economy generally and in the food sector specifically. While individual donors may from time to time have a good track record on various elements of agricultural growth, the overall record is driven by the large number of donors, the wide variety of donors’ views and interest, and the lack of an agreed agricultural strategy embodying a set of clear priorities.

· Based on these constraints, donors and lending institutions must be willing to support and enable us to coordinate their inputs into a domestic food production master plan within the framework of a national food production strategy. By so doing, we will avoid further additions to the graveyards of so-called development programmes and projects scattered throughout the country. Donor and lending institution assistance are meaningful only if they build the capacity of recipient countries for self-sustained growth and development.
In the light of these and other problems, but particularly because of the failure of ADPs to attain their outlined frame of reference, that is the target yield levels, it behooves us to declare a temporary moratorium on new ADPs in favour of a “winding-up, consolidation cum consultation phase.” There is no guarantee that implementing new agro-rural development programmes will be successful, simply because the capacity is not there. We will be utilising the same frontline people who have guided us through two decades of failure.

Taking into account the current debate about the future of this country, which MUST be intricately linked to the overall performance of the agricultural sector, the winding-up, consolidation and consultation phase will enable us to:-
· Reexamine and clarify the role of ADPs in agricultural and rural development;
· Review and assess rural Gambia’s experiences, achievements, and constraints with agricultural development programmes/projects;

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· Examine which clientele groups have benefited or are currently benefiting from agricultural development programmes (ADPs) and to consider these findings in the design of future intervention programmes for the New Gambia;
· Analyse the human and financial resources being invested in donor and lending institution funded ADPs and consider factors influencing the sustainability of the interventions;

· Consider alternative approaches and methods of implementing intervention programmes around the country, including specific attention to the kinds of clientele being served, resource allocation, subject matter coverage, methodology, extent of contact with farmers, and cost-effectiveness; and
· Based on a review of these findings, it is possible to reach agreement through the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU), with the beneficiaries, on specific
guidelines/recommendations that can help improve the effectiveness of future ADPs in achieving their development goals.

It is envisioned that the output of this winding-up, consolidation and consultation phase on agricultural development programmes/projects would be useful to policy and decision makers, development planners in the ministries of agriculture, national development planning authorities, frontline extension agents, university of The Gambia, agriculture & community development training institutions and others who are concerned with strengthening the national agricultural development systems in the country. It is also expected that the output from this intervention would provide much needed information and recommendations to the World Bank and other multilateral and bilateral agencies that assist the government in improving agricultural development services.

It should be further noted that, during this phase we will be adequately equipped with strategically quantifiable data, attainable and sustainable, to enable us “jump start” the process of change of the whole tenor of Rural Gambian life from that of a dominantly agrarian society barely able to meet its food and fiber needs, to that of a well “programmed and performing” society that will be better “fed and clothed” as no nation in the sub-region has ever been. We have the comparative advantage and proven professional experience to do this.
The most telling message of this contribution to Mr Bolong Sonko’s scholarly note, is the urgent need for a moratorium. Time is not on our side. A permanent decision must be found now, if we are to halt the rapidly deteriorating situation. These lines from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyaam say it most poignantly.


The bird of time has but a little way to fly –
and, lo, the bird is on the wing.

The author, Mr Suruwa Jaiteh, a native of Bakau, is a former international civil servant, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture. He is now a development consultant.

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