During a meeting with the president-elect of Guinea Bissau at State House in Banjul earlier this week, the farmer-president stated: “People can bear poverty but nobody can bear hunger and so addressing it should be a priority. Food is becoming a weapon and if you look at Egypt, for example, it started with the removal of subsidy on bread and now we have seen the consequences. Also in Tunisia and in most African countries, it started with food shortages. Addressing food security should be a priority because here in The Gambia, we spend D800million on imported rice annually when we can grow our own rice. None of the rice that we import is one year old no matter what they tell you and the rice that comes to Africa would have been placed in a store for a minimum of three years. In this case, it has to be fumigated to be put in a store for three years and this is why we have a lot of strange diseases in Africa.”
President Jammeh further indicated that his ‘Vision 2016’ will end rice importation in the country and the D800million annual rice importation bill could be used to implement other critical development programmes. He said this will not only help the country to be self-sufficient but it will also become a major exporter to feed other West African countries.
He added: “I came up with this policy that by 2016, we are not going to allow anybody to import rice to this country. Nothing can change my mind except God and it’s because we can do it. Part of River Gambia is fresh water throughout the year. During my tour, I have seen for myself. Not only can this country be self-sufficient, but without using too much money and technology, we can become a major exporter and feed West Africa. I know that food is becoming a weapon; when you have a food crisis and if people are hungry by natural circumstances they deserved to he helped and that’s a human rights issue. I have been the longest serving minister of agriculture in Africa and energy because the two complement each other. They are also related to the health and well-being of people. If teachers are hungry, they cannot teach and if students are hungry, they cannot learn. If civil servants are hungry they will not work and so feeding is like oil because a car will not start moving without petrol. No development can take place in the midst of hunger and that’s why giving it priority is the right thing to do”.
By Lamin Njie