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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Top economist counters president’s claims of achievements

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Top economist, Dr Ousman Gajigo, has said President Barrow’s claims of achievements registered by his government in the areas of agriculture and infrastructure building during his independence day speech are farfetched.

In a write-up he shared with this paper in response to the speech, Dr Gajigo said the president must either “be living in an alternate universe or he must be convinced that the country can be made to believe any fiction no matter how divorced from reality it is”.

He wrote: “According to President Barrow, ‘the agriculture sector is now booming, following the bumper harvest recorded this year’.  That is far from the truth. And it is important that we the citizens challenge our leaders when they make assertions on important national issues that deviate from reality and not to mince words in doing so. What evidence did the president present to back up this bold statement? None whatsoever.

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“Agriculture entails many activities… There are accessible indicators that can provide us with objective information on the state of our agriculture sector since Adama Barrow came to power in 2017. Overall, agricultural production can be aggregated in a single number called the production index. Using this figure from FAO, which has been supplied with data from our own Ministry of Agriculture, the country’s agricultural output has been falling on average about 4% per year since 2017. On a per capita basis, it has been falling at a rate of over 5% per annum. How are the various sub-sectors faring within the above aggregate figure? The per capita production in the cereal fell almost 9% per annum since 2017. Productions in the livestock and vegetable sub-sectors fell by about 2% per annum since 2017.

“…The country produced over 30,000 tonnes of groundnuts in 2016 but we are currently barely at 20,000 tonnes. In 2016, the country produced about 49,000 tonnes of rice, while we are still below 50,000 tonnes today. Over the past seven years, The Gambia has the lowest average rice yield in all of Ecowas. The rice production figures would have been even worse if we did not have some private investors active in the sector. As for vegetable growing, there is almost no support from the government to village gardens that supply the country with essential vegetables. Virtually all the support these village gardens receive come from limited duration donor-funded projects and philanthropic efforts by NGOs and private individuals. In other words, the few bright spots in the agriculture sector occur in spite of, not because of, the Adama Barrow regime.

“It is not surprising why results in the agriculture sector have been dismal and far from the success story that President Barrow is trying to peddle. The government has not implemented any coherent plans in the sector. It simply continues the same failed practices that the previous government had in place. Here are the key elements of these flawed traditional plans. Each single year, the government ritually distributes fertilizers at the beginning of the rainy season without carefully matching the types with the crops grown. These fertilizers almost always arrive late, and the distribution is not guided by enough extension workers in the field to ensure proper use. The few quantities of rice seeds donated to farmers are frequently distributed late, and are also rarely accompanied by extension service. As in previous years, the payments for farmers for their groundnut harvests arrived months late even though the government threatened communities for selling to unapproved vendors… The fact of the matter is that the agriculture sector has been doing poorly under the Adama Barrow regime…The exclusive source of the failure is at the level of the central government where there has been no coherent policy. Key evidence of the lack of seriousness when it comes to agriculture is the minuscule budget allocated to the sector by the government, almost all of which went into recurrent expenditures rather than needed investments.”

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On infrastructural development, Dr Gajigo said while it must be acknowledged that many new roads have been built, the reality is that far more development could have been achieved in the infrastructure sector.

He argued: “To assess the government’s track record in this sector, one must not just naively look at before and after, but rather what the country could have realistically achieved given the opportunities we have in a post-dictatorship regime. Moreover, we should not forget that quality also matters.

“Let’s consider the flagship road project, which is being funded by the OIC. Here is a road project that could have been the foundation of a major road master plan in the Greater Banjul Area. Instead, we are about to be presented with a road that, while it is an improvement over the previous two-lane road, it is of far lower quality than what could have been achieved if executed with even minimal level of planning.

“The first problem is timeliness, given how long it took the OIC project to take off. Secondly, it has been badly designed, and thousands of Gambians are enduring the hardships caused by this avoidable problem. As a consequence, major bottlenecks in Brusubi and Sukuta roundabouts are almost erasing any timesavings that are supposed to be gained because of improper spacing of intersections and the absence of flyovers in critical areas where they are needed…”

Dr Gajigo said in order to develop the country, “we must distinguish between real achievements and empty boasts”.

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