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Saturday, September 24, 2022

No need for any Gambian ministry to hire consultants – Call in the National Audit Office

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By Amet Ngallan, Fajara

The National Audit Office recently met with Gambian media people and others recently to explain the Office’s role. The media plays a crucial role to make their findings about how well government institutions are doing what they are expected to do known to the public. The hope is the government will get serious and make fixes, where needed, for the benefit of all.

The National Audit Office, led by Auditor General Mr. Karamba Touray, released a thorough, most excellent analysis of what his team found to be the main causes of the Ministry of Agriculture’s failure to provide enough seed and fertilizers of the proper quality needed to effectively support groundnut farmers. The report, available at https://nao.gm, is titled ‘Performance Audit Report on Provision of Farm Inputs (Seed and Fertilizer) To Groundnut Farmers by The Ministry of Agriculture’. It is dated Sept 2021, long before the current problems of war in Ukraine, shortages and high prices.

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Gambia’s groundnut production fell steadily from 71,082 MT in 2016 all the way down to 19,977 MT in 2019. Episodes of drought might explain some of these annual declines. But this report uncovers what must be fixed in order to reverse the decline.

The following findings are lifted directly from their report. I hope Mr. Touray is okay with my doing so.

1.3 Key findings

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1.3.1 Late arrival of inputs (seeds and fertilizer)

Late arrival of fertilizer – Groundnut farmers across the country confirmed late delivery of fertilizers during the period under audit (2016 to 2020). This is attributed to lack of a fertilizer policy, bureaucracies affecting the planning process and failure of suppliers to honor contractual agreements. This to a large extent negatively influence production and productivity of groundnut.

Late Arrival of seeds – Regional Agricultural Directors and selected groundnut farmers confirmed seeds are received lately mainly around July to August from either DOA or FAO. The late arrival of seeds to farmers is attributed to the condition that certified seed growers are not allowed to sell seeds directly to farmers. The seeds are first sold to FAO after harvest and then later distributed to farmers by MoA.

The late distribution of certified seeds caused groundnut farmers to use seeds that were saved locally which are usually of mixed varieties with low germination capacity and low-quality yield.

To paraphrase their Certified Seed production numbers, in 2019 an estimated 1998 MT of Certified Seeds were expected to be produced, but only 146.3 MT were produced, about 8% of what was expected. For 2020 2498 MT of certified seeds were expected to be produced, but only 257.18 MT were produced, about 10% of what was hoped for.

1.3.2 Dysfunctional Seed Stores in The Gambia

During our visit (5th to 19th October 2020), we found dysfunctional stores due to their dilapidated nature. Some of those that were functioning lack basic requirements for proper seed storage. We were informed that some of the stores were built in the 1980s and there has not been any maintenance. There was also no maintenance plan by the Ministry of Agriculture.

Lack of functional seed stores has led to farmers keeping their seeds in conditions not appropriate for storage and these conditions are susceptible to insect and rodent infestations. This could affect the germination of the seeds which could lead to low yield.

1.3.3 Absence of Recent Comprehensive Soil Testing Result

There was absence of comprehensive soil testing since 1996 which would have shown different types of soil fertility in The Gambia. This would have determined the types of fertilizer to be procured. The absence of recent comprehensive soil testing has been attributed to inadequate working tools (such as anhydrous sodium sulphate, fume hood, exchangeable potassium (K)) and a sub-standard laboratory for soil testing. This has led to NARI not carrying out any thorough soil testing since 1996.

1.3.4 Limited level of Sensitization with Regards to Certified Seed Usage Among Groundnut Farmers

About only seven (7) out of thirty-eight (38) farmers interviewed use certified seeds. The rest of them used seeds purchased from open marketplaces (Lumos) and seeds stored by them that were not checked and certified by NSS. The absence of using certified seeds by the farmers could lead to low-quality groundnut production and productivity

This problem is also attributed to inadequate extension workers, inadequate motorbikes, and limited fuel supply. This had resulted to inefficient extension services.

1.3.5 Limited Coordination Between Stakeholders Involved in the Fertilizer Procurement.

GGC as the fertilizer procuring arm of the government does not consult NARI to test the fertilizer procured before it is distributed. The reasons GGC advanced was that they do not know that NARI should be consulted before distribution.

Distribution of untested fertilizer poses the risk of applying the wrong fertilizer in terms of quality and type. This affects both plant growth and productivity. We have confirmed that no certificate of quality regarding fertilizers imported were obtained from NARI during the period under review.

These are the key findings in this 70-page long audit report. The report also has recommendations for fixing the problems they uncovered. It is detailed, well researched and clearly written, even in the face of the limited resources given them. It is worthwhile reading for everyone concerned with Gambia’s moving forward, as are the National Audit Office’s other reports. Their Community Fishery Center report will make you ‘wanna cry’.

Over and out.

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