The recent policy proposals like (a) the agricultural transformation programme, (b) involving soldiers in agricultural production and, (c) steps to rice self-sufficiency geared to generate sustainable growth in agricultural production in the country are unlikely to happen unless public resources are shifted to support measures that address the many underlying problems constraining resource-poor farmers’ use of production inputs to attain higher yield levels as a prerequisite to poverty reduction and asset ownership. These measures may include policy and institutional reforms, as well as public investment in on-farm production infrastructure, knowledge generation and dissemination, capacity building, and improving the resource base on which our agriculture depends.
As a people colonised by our own so-called citizens, we have not fought, defeated the citizen-colonialists and, subsequently created a new dispensation only to destroy the country. Therefore, as a convincing prelude to the above policy pronouncements, we need to lay out a new agricultural development strategy that will call for nothing less than increased production in all sectors of agriculture. The immediate goals must be to increase the level of agricultural output and to utilise more fully the underutilised labour force of the country: the unemployed youth, returnees from the Diaspora, the women folk in tasks like: agricultural production, input provision including agricultural credit, provision of storage facilities, processing and marketing. The long term objective must be the rapid development of the rural sector and to provide for viable linkage between industry and agriculture.
The first stage of what I will call an “agricultural self-sufficiency strategy,” would entail critical policy decisions in the following areas:
Institutional restructuring of the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) with special emphasis on upgrading the Agricultural Improvement Centers (AIC) formerly known as Mixed Farming Centres (MFCs);
Restore the Department of Agriculture (DoA) to its traditional role as the Nerve Center of Gambian Agriculture;
Abolish the Central Project Coordinating Unit (CPCU). Because of a very weak and an inexperienced MoA, the CPCU seem to have taken over the traditional role of the Department of Agriculture. This, more than anything else, contributed to the decline of Gambian Agriculture.
The need for the intensive introduction of new and affordable technology into the agricultural system. For the new technology to be harnessed for agricultural development, government must make it accessible to the resource-poor farmers. This in turn will require a major policy decision: that is, the liberalisation of credit for agricultural development through the channeling of funds to the resource-poor farmer sector through their village savings and credit associations (visacas).
A third policy decision would become necessary – that is, the adoption of price support for farm products – in view of the chronic seasonal fluctuations in the prices particularly of grains. This has put many farmers at an income disadvantage.
Fourth, the new agricultural development strategy will require the adoption of a massive infrastructure development programme, designed to modernise irrigation systems and the farm-road network.
Finally, as a complement to all these new policies, policies designed to promote and reinforce the “private sector position” of the smallholder will be necessary. Basic to this private sector role, is the need to reform and support the Visacas to be able to adequately finance the private sector development needs of the smallholder farmers.
The institutional restructuring of the MoA must not be avoided, and so we must be resolved to see it as the occasion to create a structure designed to generate an agriculture-led growth in the country. The new dispensation must be committed to CURB corruption and promote the equalisation of opportunities and the rectification of social imbalances. While we must eschew the socialist option, we must seek to curb the unrestrained creation of so-called master farmers at the expense of the smallholder farmers. The smallholder farmers who constitute the overwhelming majority of our population and their primary problems – poverty itself and their unequal access to the basic necessities of life and to the basic opportunities for self-advancement and development – must be recognised as having primary claims on government policies, programmes and resources.
This must be the new dimension that we should give to the advancement of national development through a sustained agriculture-led growth. The National Assembly is called upon to lead this challenge. We need to be extremely careful in our policy pronouncements, NOT to risk an agrarian crisis in the country.
Suruwa B Wawa Jaiteh