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Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Rice Story: The need for a planned and programmed production approach

This will provide the basis for the design of production policies cum strategies as well as the design of actionable agro-eco-physiological plans for the regions and their production ecologies for a systematic and cost effective rice development.      

                                                                                                                                      SB Wawa Jaiteh

                                                                                                                                      Food Policy Workshop, 1982       



With the increasing attention on the rice story and the proposed “import ban” by 2016, it is important to ensure that there is a conceptual clarity surrounding the proposed action.  The term “import ban” refers to banning the import of a specific commodity and/or item, in this case rice.  The implications are that the country must have and/or plans to have a quantitative as well as a qualitative access to this commodity through domestic production, by the year 2016.  For this to happen, the prerequisite technical, financial and timeframe implications, must be adequately outlined and religiously adhered to.  In The Gambia as elsewhere, the food basket is about 50% of family expenditure.  This is important because rice is the price index of the food basket.  Therefore, to justify and sustain the import ban the country must be able to produce the national rice requirement (which is above 150,000 tons) 10 to 15% cheaper than the imported rice.  There must, therefore, be a shift from a growth dependent on expansion in land area to a growth based upon production intensification, that would require sustained use of research recommended production inputs for the targeted increased yields per hectare (yield revolution) to represent an important change from the current low input low output (LILO) rice production system to a high input high output (HIHO) production system. 



Rice is regarded by many nationalists and development practitioners as the most important problem confronting agriculturists in the next quarter of a century.  It is probably most serious in a drought-prone Sahelian country like The Gambia where rice is equated with food, with an enviable comparative advantage in producing and selling the food item but only able to produce less than 20% of the country’s requirement.  

Because of the magnitude of the problem, it seems clear that most of the rice required will have to be produced in the country.  People must learn to feed themselves by their own efforts, using the resources available to them.  Is this possible?  I am convinced that in much of the country it is not only possible, but it is probably the only feasible way of doing it.  Fortunately, most of the poor and poorly fed people live in the rural areas where rice can be grown 365 days of the year.  In many such places, people are short of rice because they have not yet learned how to use efficiently all the basic resources for rice production available to them.  This paper takes a professional view on the evolving rice problem.   It further looks at the technical, financial and time-frame implications of the proposal vis-à-vis their functionality and/or dysfunctionality. 

Most of the people in The Gambia are rice eaters.  From 60 to 80 percent of their food calories are derived from rice.  The average per capita consumption is about 117 kilogrammes/annum or 0.32 kilogrammes a day.  About 44 percent of the population are farmers, and for most of them, especially the females, rice is the principal crop, and for many of them, the only crop.  For the women, the cropping system is essentially a rice monoculture and, for some of them a rice-based cropping system.  The primary objective of the farmer is to produce all the rice needed by the family.  Any leftover is sold to buy the other essentials for his simple life.  His farm (including rice and other cereals) is small, ranging in most places from 1 to 2 hectares and averaging about 1.2 hectares.  Yields of rice average 800 to 1200 kg/ha.  The average annual income usually ranges from GMD11,960 to GMD17,940.  Produce and income could be higher with appropriate input use based on a targets-based approach.  On this a household of 8 or more subsists. 

Many distinguished scientists, production-cum-development practitioners have conducted extensive research and development work on the crop and written learned papers on many aspects of the national food problem.  Many national and international conferences have been held at which the subject was discussed at length.  There have been noteworthy action as well as talk shop.  

Many non-governmental organisations (NGOs), many national and several international agencies have sponsored action programmes designed to alleviate the rice situation.  While many of these have not achieved much, a select few had short-term tangible results already (see Suruwa B Wawa Jaiteh, Performance Review of Irrigated Rice Development Projects in The Gambia, 1965 to 1995. Some outstanding interventions in need of mention, as successful reference points, were the rice development programme of the following:  Freedom from Hunger Campaign Food Security Programme (FFHC/FSP), was a Germany funded NGO, popularly known as the “Konko Bai Kafo” under the leadership of Axel Thoma (Babil Mansa).  This intervention concentrated on saline mangrove areas, Inland valleys and uplands. The NGO cooperated with the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA) and became a reference point for rice production under these ecologies.  ActionAid The Gambia (AATG),  a United Kingdom funded NGO promoted tidal irrigated rice development under its Food Production Support Programme (FPSP) around AATG school communities, under the professional leadership of Malamin Sonko, MBE, first Gambian AATG country director.  These programmes have been so successful that they have been credited, and I think deservedly, with starting a Gambian “green revolution.”  The programmes were at their best during the structural adjustment programme (SAP) and were able to successfully link the production realities to the household and the market.  The unique success of these interventions attracted visitors from all over Africa, thinking that some kind of black magic had been employed in Gambian agriculture, especially in the rice sub-sector.  We are fortunate in having with us in the country some leaders and participants of this Gambian “green revolution”.      

This series is additionally designed to review, analyse, and assess the successful interventions/work which has been done in the country in initiating an integrated attack on the problems of providing plenty of rice for the rice eaters of the country.  This has been and should continue to be top priority assignment since rice feeds more of the people of the country than any other crop.  

Now after having paid my respect to the “honourable rice”, I shall outline some of the technical, financial and time-bound implications and their proper role in a better balanced rice production system for the small rice farms and farmers of rural Gambia, with special emphasis on both rainfed (upland, inland valleys, saline mangrove swamps) and irrigated (pump and tidal), the supporting production research for which has been adequately done by the author.     

The transition from a “traditional” culture of subsistence rice production to a surplus production scenario, within two years, during which time enough high quality locally produced rice, 10 – 15% cheaper than imported rice must be produced to provide the consumption requirements of the producers plus a marketable surplus for the citizenry will be neither easy nor simple. 


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