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High Commissioner hopes Nigerian investors could help revive Gambia’s agriculture

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By Omar Bah

The Nigerian High Commissioner to The Gambia, who recently led a delegation of senior staff of his office and the Gambia National Council of Elders (NCE) on a nationwide tour to agricultural sites across the country, has expressed desire to mobilise investors from his country to invest in The Gambia.

The tour was conducted to find The Gambia’s existing potentials for rice production with a view to engaging Nigerian investors in moving the country’s food self-sufficiency drive forward.

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The delegation consists of the Council of Elders, the Paramount Chief, the Director of Raid Gambia, the CEO of MJ Finance, the Nigerian High Commissioner, and other senior staff and members of the Nigerian community. President Adama Barrow reportedly supported the Gambian delegation with fuel and vehicles.

The Nigerian High Commissioner, Muhammad Manu said he used the visit to familiarise himself with the agricultural and other development potentials of The Gambia with a view to attracting Nigerian investors as a model for economic cooperation and integration in West Africa.

He informed the regional and district authorities and local community leaders that Nigeria has achieved a lot in the area of food production, considering that, under the present government the country “no longer imports rice”.

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“The realization of this goal is complemented with the establishment of industrial processing plants/facilities which has, in turn, created employment opportunities for many people. It is along those lines that the High Commission wishes to invite Nigerian investors to venture into reviving agricultural food production and processing in The Gambia, based on the Nigerian experience,” he said.

According to High Commissioner Manu, the visit provided his office with the opportunity to meet and consult with regional authorities, see potential rice production areas in different regions and the rice mill and cotton ginnery (processing facilities) in Kuntaur and Basse respectively.

During the various community gatherings, the different speakers in all the areas visited expressed delight in receiving the delegation. The people particularly commended the High Commissioner for the bold initiative which is coming at the right time. Reference was also made to the long-standing friendly relationship between the Gambia and Nigeria pointing at a lot of similarities in the cultures/tradition and religions of the two people. Similarly, in almost all the meetings, speakers indicated that this was the first time for such a diplomatic delegation to visit their regions, districts, and communities.

One of the district chiefs described it as a ‘wonderful history’ for a High Commissioner to tour the country to explore avenues for partnership and development. The communities visited stressed that investing in agriculture and addressing the food security concerns of the country is “a national priority”.

The communities also lamented the decline in agricultural production, with low crop yields and household incomes, thus undermining food security and worsening the poverty situation of many farmers and households.

Commissioner Manu thanked the communities for the warm reception, describing it as a demonstration of love and cordial brotherly ties between the two countries.

He pointed out that there is “a cordial political relationship between The Gambia and Nigeria and that this initiative is in line with the broader philosophy of finding ways to link the economies of the two countries to benefit the two people”.

“The first step in fostering this philosophy was to invite the Emir of Kanu (the second richest state in Nigeria) who came to the Gambia with a group of investors. The Emir and his delegation were in the country for one week, during which they met with Gambian investors and visited agricultural lands and other sectors of the economy,” he stated.

High Commissioner Manu said the organization of a joint trade fair between Gambia and Nigeria businesses to be held next week is a clear demonstration of the relationship shared between the two countries.

“This will go a long way in promoting made-in-Gambia and made-in-Nigeria products and will help in building rapport, familiarity, and possible exchanges between investors and business enterprises of the two countries,” he added.

The team also visited two agricultural processing facilities; the rice mill in Kuntaur and cotton ginnery in Basse but both facilities were found to be in a very serious state of disrepair.

According to the regional and community leaders consulted in both areas, these plants were booming, serving both the local and export markets. However, they were quick in pointing out that those days of glory are gone as the facilities have ceased to operate for many years now, which has rendered them defunct and dilapidated.

The team recommended that since food processing is an important component of the value chain, consideration should be given to possible investment in either reactivation or establishment of completely new facilities to create employment especially for young people and contribute in curbing youth irregular migration.

The team that toured NBR, CRR/North and URR, said there is evidence, in terms of availability of land, that the Gambia has the potential to produce enough rice to meet the needs of the country and even export surplus produce.

However, according to the team, in the absence of the volume and type of investments required, “this will continue to be a farfetched dream”.

The consultative meetings in all the areas visited reveal that there are vast underutilised and undeveloped farm lands which can be transformed into highly productive fields with the use of farm machinery and introduction of improved production practices.

The need for food processing facilities (rice, flour, vegetables and fruits) was also emphasised.

The Nigerian High Commissioner further indicated that he is impressed with the peace and stability in the Gambia. He noted that the tour has afforded him the opportunity for a rapid assessment of the Gambia’s agricultural potentials which he said includes the river Gambia which can be used both for irrigation and fishing.

High Commissioner Manu recognized that some of the crop fields may even be suitable for the cultivation of wheat to feed into local flour mills.

“These are valuable assets and resources that should be nurtured and developed on a sustainable basis to improve livelihoods and as such, I and my team want to leave a positive legacy behind by way of a landmark intervention in the Gambia’s food self-sufficiency drive,” he stated.

He added: “Investing in agricultural production and processing is, without doubt, an avenue for youth employment, which in itself will contribute to addressing other critical national development challenges such as youth irregular migration, use of illicit substances, and other related social vices.”

Most of the people who spoke in the different gatherings agreed on the need for more serious investments in the agricultural value chain system for food security and poverty reduction.

The team suggested that this should be pursued within the Pan-African spirit and framework, as clearly exemplified in the objectives and utterances made throughout the mission.

“Increasing agricultural production and improving the value chain system for different agricultural commodities will make a huge difference in the lives of the people, especially the farming community,” the team said.

Relation

Existing political relations between Nigeria and Gambia were generally described as excellent but there are challenges in bringing the two people together, especially in the area of economic integration where we are still lagging behind. It was recognized that even though the Gambia and Nigeria are close to each other, the two countries still continue to trade with more distant countries. “Therefore, inviting and encouraging Nigerian investors to the Gambia for the purpose of boosting agricultural production will be an important milestone in improving livelihoods, enhancing food security and reducing poverty,” Commissioner Manu said.

Recommendations

The delegation recommended the need for a more detailed study on the available agricultural lands in all regions and their suitability for agricultural purposes, specifically for rice production with recommendations for the most appropriate irrigation system (tidal, pump irrigation, or boreholes).

In this process, the delegation added, consideration should be given to the areas suitable for the cultivation of wheat and the expansion of maize as raw materials for flour, instead of relying entirely on rain-fed agriculture the possibility of introducing year-round farming should be considered, technical studies on the Kuntaur rice mill and Basse cotton ginnery both of which have collapsed with recommendations for reactivation or overhaul through private sector investments. The delegation added that the revitalisation of the rice mill in Kuntaur as the highest rice-producing region, should be taken on as an important challenge and a national priority for investment to regain its lost glory as the central rice processing facility in the Gambia.

“Hence, there is an urgent need to determine what went wrong and what needs to be done. It will also be worthwhile to attract investments in the fruit and vegetable production and processing sub sector. There is also a need to consult and work closely with the Gambian private sector actors who could cooperate with Nigerian investors in sustainable food production for the local and export market,” the delegation added.

Considering the legal and other related issues around the defunct/dilapidated cotton ginnery in Basse (URR) and the fact that cotton production has declined significantly in the area, the delegation recommended that the possibility of investing in completely new rice and or flour processing plant within the same complex should be considered.

It also recommended a national food production forum with the Gambian private sector operators (GCCI, banks, development partners, etc) to convene with a view to creating a road map for investments in the production and processing of agricultural commodities.

In the face of a global decline in the supply and high cost of food commodities, the delegation added, there is a need to strengthen inter-African trade (which is very low at less than 25%) and cooperation, especially in food production.

It also recommended that the Nigerian High Commission initiates a process of forging linkages between local government authorities and schools in the two countries and engage the Ministry of Agriculture and the Gambia’s development partners (such as UNDP, FAO, IFAD, EU, WB and others) as important stakeholders in this process.

The Nigerian High Commissioner was awarded Honorary Citizenship by President Adama Barrow in Mankamang Kunda during the tour.

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