Suruwa B. Wawa Jaiteh
Your Excellency, Adama Barrow; The Gambia is an agrarian society that is dependent, essentially, on agriculture and, for most farmers, Rainfed Agriculture.
We are in the rainy season and, have endured a very long period of abnormally low rainfall.
This is drought by any definition. Fortunately and/or unfortunately, this disturbing situation has not bothered the transitional government to make any pronouncement.
This is frustrating, utterly disappointing and a deliberate technical omission that cannot be excused from the point of view of a resource-poor agrarian society that is transiting from a quarter century of institutional destruction.
Specifically, Your Excellency may wish to know that, the current drought in the country has stirred the entire farming community into disillusion and, for the transitional government which has held sway over national affairs during the last two and half years, this is a decisive reminder for the institution of an expert agro-rural consultation for the formulation of an Agro-Rural Development Master Plan that can provide us a challenging sense of direction.
The fact that, this is the second year of visible natural constraints to good crop performance in the country since the proclamation of New Gambia, in 2017, makes this year’s drought an event of no ordinary significance.
But beyond this fact, there is the larger meaning to the need for a professional consultation.
A prerequisite of a comprehensive agro-rural development policy, expected to be an output of the expert consultation is the recognition that one of the principal goals of the state must be to care for the human being, especially the resource-poor. For a society to advance economically, its activities must alter the condition of the natural environment without any serious repercussions to the resource-poor and, in a manner that permits live and let live.
This leads to harmonious existence between the implementation of development plans and the need for environmental harmony that promotes sustainable development.
It is wishful thinking that the so-called National Development Plan (NDP) can be expected to be successful, create employment and become, eventually sustainable, without the state enacting appropriate legislation for the creation of a strong agro-rural Base.
The proposed expert consultation is necessitated by the occasional food production crises resulting from bouncing drought, other environment and human related happenings.
The consultation will, among other things, revisit the potentials that irrigation and other water controlled production systems could offer in increasing and stabilizing agricultural production, reducing the adverse effects of drought, and promoting genuine rural development. To do this successfully, the consultation will need to examine the irrigation and other production system experience in the country with a view to incorporating the lessons learned as defining strategies for future irrigation and other water controlled development.
Additionally, the consultation will provide an opportunity for agro-rural development experts to exchange views on three principal issues:
Drought and its ameliorating measures
Upland/Rainfed Cropping System: shifting cultivation/permanent and bush fallow cropping/countour ridge/terrace cropping. Any of these measures could be used to ameliorate the negative impact of drought.
The present and future role of irrigation and water controlled agriculture in food production
The present irrigated and water controlled area in the country is rather small.
However, inventories of land and water resources show a great potential for expansion. An analysis is needed of criteria and conditions governing the successful development of this potential.
Policy options and strategies to attain irrigation and other water controlled development objectives
A review must be made of experiences gained in irrigation and water controlled development throughout the country and an analysis of factors contributing to or limiting success. This will provide the basis for the formulation of appropriate policies and strategies in the various regions of the country.
A national action programme must provide the tools for the formulation and implementation of country-specific strategies and water controlled development plans.
External support needs may be identified and support mobilized.
The physical (agroclimatic, land, water), institutional (social, economic, psychological) factors, and trade jointly determine the nature and successful viability of food production systems. There exists a wide variety of divergencies in the physical resources endowments as well as in socio-phychological patterns among food producing regions and therefore production systems are not necessarily homogeneous.
Furthermore, even with the presence of available technologies that would technically fit each of these production systems, there are still institutional factors that would enhance and/or hinder their viability.
The recent turn of events, two/three weeks without rain, in an agrarian society like the Gambia, does provide emphatic evidence that even a clueless transition government needs the use of reliable drought information for its own policies and an effective system of communication for community information.
Drought communication is one important process of reinforcing a rural community.
This is perhaps the best defense of concern for the plight of the rural people: it is a better way to build agro-rural communities. So far the transition government has failed in this vital area, indicating its lack of concern for pro-poor growth.
Your Excellency, until the incidence of hunger is brought down and the enormous cost of importing food supplies is reduced by raising the output of farm products at the resource-poor farmer level, which the country can produce with comparative advantage on our side, there is little prospect of achieving the high rates of economic growth which we aspire.
Furthermore, Your Excellency, People suffering from hunger are marginalized within the economy, contributing little to output and still less to demand, they are constantly vulnerable to shocks.
Agriculture-led development is fundamental to reversing this situation through: creating employment, cutting hunger, reducing poverty, generating economic growth, reducing the burden of food imports and opening the way to an expansion of exports.
Finally, Your Excellency, improving agriculture in a drought prone environment is at the heart of improved economic development and growth, and its role in poverty alleviation and in the restoration of human dignity can never be over-emphasised.
This must, therefore, be a priority agenda for the institutional restructuring of the Ministry of Agriculture in response to the needs of the country’s private sector, the resource-poor farmers.