By Tabora Bojang
The chairman of the National Assembly Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, Omar Darboe, has said the parliament will fully support the army’s bid to venture into large-scale agricultural production to satisfy the country’s food demand.
The soldiers are cultivating about five hectares of rice field in Sotuma Samba Koi Upper River Region relying on a user-friendly manual provided by the ROOTS Project.
Speaking to The Standard as his committee monitors the site last week, the NPP lawmaker argued that the army is capable of not only protecting the sovereignty and the integrity of The Gambia but also supporting the development of agriculture and achieving food security in The Gambia.
“We [NAMs] are captivated with what we found on the ground because we never knew soldiers can go that far to compliment government efforts towards food sufficiency. The soldiers are producing enough rice to feed their men in the camp here [Basse]. They are supplementing their own diet with the produce they are getting from the farm. But they are also thinking of going into large scale farming where they will package this produce and sell it to the consumers at a cheaper price. But that is only possible if they have the support from the government,” Darboe said.
“As parliamentarians, we are going to make sure we give them our full support in that drive,” he vowed.
According to the Upper Niumi NAM, a similar scheme has been rolled out in Uganda where the army is fully engaged in production processes and has been a success.
“We saw this during our visit to Uganda and all retired and active soldiers are engaged in agriculture and they are contributing more towards food security than other farmers. They are also providing sufficient agricultural products for both the army and the civilian population at cheaper prices. If we have a similar scheme coming from our army, the government and all partners should join hands and give them support to adopt it. That will help us achieve our food security vision. Agriculture is the only way to alleviate the suffering of our people,” Darboe claimed.
NAM Darboe said his committee also assessed the progress of construction at some project sites and raised eyebrows over the slow pace of some projects caused by awarding it to a single contractor.
“In Kulari, there is construction of a seed store and a drying floor. It is at a foundation stage but surprisingly a similar project is in Sutukoba and that one is at the finishing stage. These projects were approved at the same time but unfortunately, they were put into one lot and given to a single contractor and that is really delaying the implementation,” Darboe said.
He said a similar problem was found in Basse where a cold store is being constructed but is at the foundation, while the Kuntaur and Jarra Soma seed stores are near completion.
“These [contracts] are awarded to one contractor so we don’t know why others are at the finishing stage and others are just at foundation. We need to find out when we come back to Banjul.”