As part of his Meet The People Tour, President Adama Barrow last week visited a local farm in Tubakuta owned by a US-based Gambian.
The 31-hectare farm located in the outskirts of Tubakuta is one of the biggest farms in the area motivated to make Gambia a food self-sufficient country. The farm which started with the planting of papaya, okra, watermelon and pineapple gets its seeds from Thailand and Benin.
Agriculture is the most important sector of the Gambian economy, contributing 32% of the gross domestic product, providing employment and income for 80% of the population, and accounting for 70% of the country’s foreign exchange earnings. But agricultural production has declined throughout the 1990s as a result of several factors including poor rainfall distribution, weak marketing infrastructure, lack of access to credit (especially for the youths and women) and a limited resource base.
Attempts by governments since then to help the country regain its glory days and attain food self-sufficient has proven unrealistic as little or no serious progress has been made in the sector. The government has also failed consistently on implementing the Maputo protocol which calls for 10 per cent allocation of the national budget in agriculture development. The right to food is enshrined in the Gambia Constitution which spells out the economic and social rights key among them being freedom from hunger by having adequate food of acceptable quality.
The government allocated less than 5% to agriculture in next year’s budget. This is short of the Maputo Protocol.
The country also has one of the highest per capita consumption rates of rice in the region while local production only accounts for a small fraction of the amount of rice consumed, leaving a high demand for imported rice. Also, the majority of the fruits sold in the country’s markets are imported and given steady population growth of about 3 percent per annum, the demand for imported rice will remain strong. The Minister of Agriculture Demba Sabally has insisted that the country should prioritize agriculture as a means of fighting against hunger.
The government has also reaffirmed its commitment to the sector which is part of the reasons why the president decided to visit the Gikay farm to inspire the initiators.
Shortly after taking a tour of the huge farm, President Barrow, who visited the farm with a delegation of ministers and senior government officials, said he was very impressed with what he had seen and encouraged the initiators to keep up the momentum.
The president said his government is committed to supporting the development of the agricultural sector. He commended the initiators of the farm to keep up the good work. The Gambian leader said it would only take a very patriotic citizen to expend such a huge number of resources into the agricultural sector.
The farm manager and former technical expert at Songhai farming training centre in Chamen, Audu Makpa, said the president’s visit is a morale booster.
“When you are doing something trying to contribute to the development of your country and your leadership decides to pay you a visit and see what you are doing is a sign of encouragement. We really appreciate the president’s visit and that of UDP leader Ousainu Darboe. Both visits serve as an inspiration to us, especially the young people working at the farm,” he said.
He said the progress made at the farm has come with a lot of challenges, especially finance.
“We have applied for so many projects that have been coming to the Gambia but we have not been shortlisted for any grants and the recent application that we made is still being processed. So, I believe the visit of the president will shed more light on what we are doing because we are looking at the possibility of saving the government and people from depending on vegetable importation and some other fruits,” he said. He said most of the plantain and pineapple consumed in the Gambia usually comes from Guinea Bissau and Ivory Coast.
“But Gikay Farm has started producing Plantain and Pineapple which many thought could not be grown here and the ones we grow here are even much better than those coming from Bissau and Ivory Coast. We have also gone into vegetable production as well because if you observe sometime, you see vegetables coming from Senegal and Holland. Imagine, Gambia importing carrot, cabbage and all these things from Holland. So, we are trying to have our own local produce so that we can empower our people, especially the women,” he said. He said the president was very impressed with the level of work and resources invested at the farm.
“We have informed him of our desire to work closely with the government,” he said.
Responding to the president’s visit to his farm, the chief executive officer of Gikay Farms, Muhammed A. Jawara said he and his team are honoured and grateful for the visit of the president.
“On behalf of everyone associated with Gikay Farms, I would like to thank the president, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the rest of his team for taking time out of their busy schedule to visit the farm. It means a lot to us. This visit will certainly give us more encouragement to keep doing what we have started and hopefully serve as an inspiration for many other Gambians in the diaspora,” Jawara said.
The country’s agricultural sector continued to struggle with very little or no progress. The greatest problem facing the sector is the lack of private investors and enough financial support to farmers.
“I think it is time for all stakeholders in both the private and public sector to start thinking about agriculture with a different mindset. The idea that agriculture should be for people with limited opportunities or subsistence purposes only should be consigned to history,” Jawara said. According to Jawara, the agriculture sector in the Gambia has the potential to transform lives and uplift communities “out of poverty, if our approach to it is right”.
“For me, agriculture should be treated as a business area where money can be made, and lives can be improved. Therefore, the government should continue working with farmers and partners across the spectrum to encourage private investment through empowering private investors who can contribute towards the agricultural output of the country,” he added.
Jawara, who spent years in the US, said his ambition is huge.
“I have always seen national development as something in which every citizen has a stake. One can only do your part. For us at Gikay Farms, we want to embark on a journey that will serve as a blueprint for technology oriented mechanized agriculture through integrated framing. Hopefully, other Gambians will emulate our approach and we can all make the Gambia a country that all of us can be proud of,” he said.
Commenting on the progress made by his farm, Jawara said though a lot of progress has been made in terms of reaching his targets, there is still a long way to go for him to reach his actual target of transforming the agricultural sector and transforming the mindset of Gambians towards the sector.
“We are nowhere near where I envision us to get in the long term. Haven said that I think we have made huge strides forward over the years despite all the challenges we face. We knew from the beginning that this was not going to be a cake walk. It certainly has not been easy, but we thank Allah for getting this far in the journey. Farming is a marathon,” he added.
The Gambia is currently struggling with the rapid proliferation of real estate’s agency and land grabbing challenges and those in the agricultural sector are not spared.
Commenting on the challenges he faces in terms of accessing land, Jawara said there are many challenges facing investors in the agricultural sector.
“We need an enabling environment where our investments will be protected against land scammers. There are challenges related to water, water tanks, machinery, electricity, storage, and of course, access to the market. I strongly believe that the agriculture sector has the potential to add more value to our GDP if there is an effective investment in the agricultural value-chain,” he stated.
Jawara said he decided to invest in agriculture in order to be able to contribute to the socio-economic development of the country.
Gikay Farms can be contacted on [email protected] or +220 7950503/+220 7900299.