‘GOV’T’S POOR INVESTMENT IN AGRICULTURE MAKES TARGETS IMPOSSIBLE TO REACH’

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By Omar Bah

Retired Gambian international civil servant, Lamin Manneh, has said the lack of sufficient investment by government in the country’s agriculture sector makes it impossible to reach targets for food self-sufficiency among others. Manneh, a former staff of the African Development Bank, cited the D200 million allocation to agriculture in the country’s 2022 budget as far short of the commitment African heads of state made in Maputo to commit 10% of their countries’ budget to agriculture.

“In 2021, agriculture was allocated D400 million but in 2022, it was reduced to a mere D282 million, less than 2% of the national budget, yet the Maputo Agreement requires African states to dedicate at least 10% of their national budget to agriculture. In our case this should be almost D3 billion in 2022. But no. Only less than 2% of the budget was allocated to agriculture,” Manneh, who is also a member of the opposition UDP, said.

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An expert in international law and development management, Manneh said government cannot claim to have taken agriculture as a priority sector when they devoted less than 2% of the national budget to it.

He argued that the same government gave the National Assembly many times more than what it gave to the entire agriculture sector and also gave the President’s Office twice more money than the agriculture sector. ”It doesn’t make sense and yet we blame everything on the Ukraine/Russia war or the Covid. But how committed are we as a government to the priority sectors of the economy.  Can we go to our families and tell them we cannot provide food because of a Ukraine and Russia war or because Covid is around?” he asked.

The Gambia, he added, has just over 2 million people in population, less than the population of Dakar alone in Senegal “yet we cannot feed 2 million people in 57 years of independence even with such vast expanses of land and fresh water in half of the River Gambia.”

Mr Manneh however argued that with the right policies and programmess, the country can produce enough rice, millet, findi and other basics it need and even export some.  He said Mali, which is landlocked and in most part a desert, and has to build dams to be able to farm, is exporting agricultural products. “And we don’t need dams here. Also, if we develop the sector, we can do a whole year-round farming, employ thousands and make Gambians wealthy. We will be able to supply our hotel industry who are importing most of their commodities to the Gambia. That should not happen – those monies should stay here. What we are using to import rice, oil and all what not if we produce it here, we could use those monies and invest it elsewhere while we export,” Mr Manneh said.

He said the country cannot be sustained as a tax-based economy because it will eventually tax all businesses to death or make people  avoid paying taxes.

Manneh lamented that the poor quality of poultry being imported in to the country and the oil are having a devastating impact on our health- with people suffering from high blood and other ailments. “A well-developed agric sector will take care of all that,” he added.

Read more on the interview next week.