Dr Sidi Sanyang,
Kombo South, WCR, Gambia
Agriculture value chains have become one of the efficient ways to modernize and transform Agriculture in many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and the private sector is a critical stakeholder in that process. The question is – how can private sector participation be optimally facilitated in situations where they are already active but remain weak? or where they are absent and need to be catalyzed into action to contribute to food and nutrition security in the country.
The aim of this article is not to go into the full details of the requisite institutional and structural arrangements and partnerships on how the Ministry of Agriculture can facilitate and / or catalyze private sector engagement in Agriculture Value Chains but rather, suggest few strategic pillars that the Ministry of Agriculture / The Gambia Government can start to brainstorm on how to make key agriculture value chains more efficient and inclusive – with the active participation of the private sector operators, without marginalizing smallholder farmers and other stakeholders.
Transformation of the food systems of The Gambia should be catalyzed around institutional reforms, led by the Ministry of Agriculture. Critical to that process is: the private sector’s access to agricultural land to boost food production and distribution; mind-set change among staff that the private sector has to make profit and not acting as a philanthropist; focus and selectivity of key agriculture value chain(s) to attract private sector investments; and infrastructure eg. feeder roads and energy in strategic production sites, to facilitate private sector operations among others.
Institutional Reforms: Under the leadership of The Ministry of Agriculture and to initiate an institutional reform process (if they choose to go that route), the institute (NARI) and the Department of Agriculture commonly known as Extension and their operational units, should openly and honestly assess the separation of the two – how does it compare in performance with past structural arrangements. I am not advocating for a re-invention of the exact past but to embrace some of the emerging structural arrangements in agricultural research for development ie RESEARCH AND NNOVATION to boost quality food production and distribution for the growing hungry population.
A one-stop shop institutional arrangement for farmers, private sector operators and other stakeholders through the creation of a GAMBIA AGRICULTURAL RESEACH AND INNOVATION INSTITUE, is an ideal proposition to confront the complex challenges of food production and distribution, and climate change. Considering that Projects are the drivers and funding source of agricultural development in The Gambia, the INNOVATION part of the institute will directly interlock and bind NARI and the existing EXTENSION SERVICE into one research and development institute. The current Extension Service should however be transformed into AGRIC. BUSINESS and EXTENSION in the new proposed institute, to ensure both the organized private sector (preferably indigenous), and champion farmers / farm family entrepreneurs are facilitated to actively engage in food systems transformation of The Gambia’s priority agriculture value chains. Critical to the institutional reform process is the EFFICIENT GOVERNANCE of the Agriculture Value Chain(s).
The Ministry should also consider creating (if it does not exist in that form already), a Department with core responsibility for Agricultural Statistics and Planning in addition to the National Seed Service – to ensure quality data and information drive policy re-orientation, formulation, and action; digital agriculture including market information system; and monitoring evaluation and learning.
Evidently, Projects have come to stay as the main means of doing agricultural development in The Gambia. Therefore, logically, the projects should be hosted in operational unit(s) and Department(s) that dominates the delivery of the Project OUTPUTS and not, hosting Project Coordination staff directly in the Central Projects Coordination Unit (CPCU). The CPCU should focus on its core business of fiduciary management and donor reporting, management of consultancies and project reviews, design and formulation, and holding implementing agencies accountable for the delivery of OUTPUTS, etc. Project Coordination staff should be located in or close to, the key project implementation site(s) and directly working with the implementing agency(ies) – the Ministry’s department/institute, NGOs, farmer platform, and private sector including farmer entrepreneurs. Projects should also contribute to the sustainability of a critical mass of excellent line managers, scientists, and Agric. Business and Extension specialists at the institute/department levels – to ensure the quality of research and innovation is not eroded at the national level, and competition for scarce resources is significantly minimized.
Access to Agricultural Land by the Private Sector: At a minimum, two types of private sector involvement in agriculture value chains should be facilitated and / or catalyzed by the Ministry of Agriculture. While there exists the organized private sector (small, medium, and big), there is also the less organized private sector and these include highly entrepreneurial Champion Farmers / farm family households who need to be supported to increase food production – availability, access, and affordability across the country. Entrepreneurial farmers when supported through SMART POLICIES can significantly boost quality food production and distribution.
On that note, the Ministry’s core business in ensuring private sector access to agricultural land should be a TRUST and CONFIDENCE builder and taking or directly allocating smallholder lands to the organized private sector because that will not help the sustainability of private investment in food production and distribution. In doing so, Government should target the outer fields (land far from the villages/settlements) for the more organized private sector and leave the inner fields (land close to homesteads) for indigenous smallholder farming – whether on their own or in contractual arrangement with private sector operators. However, to entice the private sector to the outer fields, Government should take care of infrastructure such as feeder roads and energy, while the organized private sector invests in equipment and land development, processing and value addition, and input and product distribution. Even if all these are accomplished, transportation and distribution of farm products (food) to the consumers will continue to be a challenge because it is well documented that transportation and distribution of farm products (food) from the farm to the fork (kitchen), is a significant driver of higher food prices.