By Tabora Bojang
Trade Minister Baboucarr Ousmaila Joof has said his ministry, the office of the vice president and other ministries will soon be engaging Gambians in the diaspora and invite them with incentives to invest in agricultural production to stem high importation of food currently affecting the country
He also said the country’s heavy reliance on food imports is harming the country in its efforts to stabilise prices of food commodities and food security and adding that plans are underway to encourage small, large scale farmers to invest in food production to increase food security through self-reliance.
The trade minister was responding to questions from national assembly members yesterday about how government plans to stabilise the cost of commodities to ameliorate the high cost of living and efforts towards boosting local food security to stem the overreliance on imports.
According to Minister Joof, the Gambia like many other net food importing countries is facing challenges to stabilise the prices of food commodities because global price of food commodities have been increasing to unprecedented levels since 2020 due to negative impacts of Covid-19, the Russian-Ukraine war and weather conditions that significantly disrupted the global supply chain.
He said in order to reduce the consequences of these impacts, government hast introduced a series of structural and regulatory reforms, streamlining trade procedures and guidelines on fees and charges and cost of clearance incurred by importers who ultimately transfer these charges to the consumer.
The trade minister added that the government has also supported the groundnut buying institition GGC to participate in the importation of edible oil and claimed that the move has helped to stabilise the price of 20 litres of cooking oil from D2150 in September to D1700 in December 2022.
However, Lower Baddibu NAM Kemo Gassama disputed the minister’s claims and asked if he would believe that the current price of oil in the market has risen to over D2000.
In response the minister said the stock levels and prices of essential commodities might be different in the market today owing to factors of demand and supply, arguing that “price fluctuation is normal in a liberal market. I was giving you answers from the end of December 2022.”
Also responding to concerns raised by Upper Nuimi NAM Omar Darboe about government plans to ensure domestic food security, Joof said his ministry is providing incentives to investors to attract them into vital areas of the economy particularly in agricultural production.
“The ministry believes that we need to go into large scale farming and also support the small holder farmers by identifying some champions in every aspect of the food production chain to support them, so that they can scale up their production.,” he said.
Asked about the government’s efforts to deal with businesses unwilling to cooperate in ensuring price stability, Joof said the government remains committed to creating an enabling environment for the private sector and revealed that a new business council that will serve as an intermediary between businesses and the government has been revived.
“Government can never be involved in the buying and selling of commodities. We need the private sector to be comfortable in that space. Our role as the facilitator is to ensure the playing field is smooth. The business community is meeting with my technical team to explore the possibility of meeting the executive to see how we can narrow our gaps and differences in the interest of the consumer,” the minister told NAMs.