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Jah Oil rice project: An ambitious investment to attain food-sufficiency

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By Omar Bah

The CEO of Jah Oil and Companies, Hamidou Jah, has defended his decision to invest millions of dollars in rice cultivation. The business tycoon has already purchased hectares of land in the West Coast, Upper River, and Central River regions. The company is planning to move into action this year. A tour of the prospective rice fields was conducted last weekend. Following the tour, Mr Jah said he is convinced that his company has all it takes to commence the project.

“The whole idea is to make The Gambia a rice-self-sufficient country and make it affordable for Gambians,” Jah said.

If Jah Oil Company succeeds in making The Gambia rice-sufficient, it would have beaten all odds.

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From former president Yahya Jammeh’s  Vision 2016 agenda to the NARI project and now the Roots Project, investments into rice production in The Gambia are in the billions of dalasi with little or nothing to show for it. The vision of making the country food self-sufficient in the areas of rice production has proven fruitless. Jammeh has tried for 22 years and failed. At least 75% of the country’s GDP comes from the agricultural sector, which is driven by rice and groundnut cultivation. Amid growing food insecurity and inflation pushing food prices to new limits, there have been calls for Africa to start producing what it eats. In The Gambia, rice is the staple food, with a per capita consumption of 117kg per annum, of which only 17% is produced locally. Every year, the West African country spends a huge amount of money on rice importation. Under Jammeh alone, The Gambia expended over $50 billion on rice importation, even though there were plans to promote food self-sufficiency through rice production. The Gambia has just over 2 million people in population, less than the population of Dakar alone in Senegal, yet it 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.

Barrow N Jah

Retired Gambian international civil servant, Lamin Manneh said the lack of sufficient investment by the government in the country’s agriculture sector makes it impossible to reach targets for food self-sufficiency, among others. Manneh, a former staff member of the African Development Bank, cited allocations to agriculture in the country’s budget as far short of the commitment African heads of state made in Maputo to commit 10% of their countries’ budgets 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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The government has continued to blame the rise of commodity prices on the Ukraine-Russia war.

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

Hydara
Hydara

“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 the Ukraine-Russia war or because COVID is around?” he asked.

But business tycoon and proprietor of Jah Oil Company Limited, Hamidou Jah, said his decision to invest in agriculture was well calculated following a number of surveys and critical reflection on the challenges ahead.

Jah said investing in agriculture is the only solution to the ongoing food shortages and unemployment in the country.

Modernisation

Mr. Jah said his plan is to invest massively in modernising agriculture across the country.

“The world is facing challenges due to climate change, and the only way we can address food shortages is by going back to the farm,” he told journalists at his office in Brikama.

He said the population is growing rapidly while farming is declining.

Jah stressed that many places where rice cultivation used to take place are now occupied by people.

He said the country no longer relies on rice importation to feed its people because there are restrictions in countries such as India due to the growth of their population.

“India is the largest rice producer, but today, if you want to have enough rice, the government must intervene. Each year, they cultivate eight million tonnes of rice, and all that rice is exported to different countries,” he narrated.

He told journalists that his vision is to have a farm in every part of the country to cultivate rice and other crops.

According to him, investing in farming will help the country feed itself and export to generate income.

“Even the unemployment we are all talking about can only be addressed through modern farming, where young people will be employed. The government cannot employ everyone, and if we take agriculture seriously, every Gambian will be employed, and we will not need to seek employees from outside,” he added.

The respected business tycoon revealed that he had previously toured many countries around the world trying to explore means to import more basic food commodities to help fellow citizens acquire them at a more sustainable price, but the world is facing a similar problem.

“If people work hard, I’m not saying rice won’t be imported into the country, but it will be reduced drastically, and the price will also reduce,” he reiterated.

Warehouse

Jah Oil Company Limited has already constructed a multi-million-dalasi trio complex with a potential capacity to store over 160,000 metric tonnes of rice and other commodities. According to the company, the warehouse has the capacity to produce the majority of the food items and import them into the country.

The company’s managing director, Momodou Hydara, said the leading oil company is not new to farming, as its founder was once a top banana farmer in the Upper River Region, URR. Hydara said the company has once again decided to go into farming to produce enough for Gambians and end the suffering people face in accessing rice and other products.

Rice Transplanter

He said the company, before deciding on investing in farming, hired the best experts in rice production, and studies have since been done to determine the visibility of the project and its prospects.

“We are aware that the project is a multi-million-dollar investment, but I am certain that we will get there because, like I said, Mr. Jah is always sympathetic to the plight of the Gambian people. I can assure you that he is not just doing this to make money but to also make life easy and sustainable for the people of this country,” he said.

Lamin Ceesay, an economist, said Hamidou Jah should be commended for taking the bold step to invest in agriculture. He said actively working with governments, the private sector, and research partners to encourage the viability and efficacy of financial safety nets such as microloans and crop insurance as a key risk mitigation tool for all rice farmers is crucial.

Ceesay said income gains in agriculture have proven to be two to four times more effective at reducing poverty than growth originating from other sectors.

“It is also essential to encourage the creation of farmer cooperatives to enable more equitable pricing negotiations on both inputs and grain marketing.

There should be facilitation of diversification of rice-based farming towards higher-value commodities to increase income and overall farm stability and minimise risk,” he said. Ceesay said the promotion of the transformation of smallholder farms from subsistence to more commercially oriented is essential to improving output.

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