By Omar Bah
The United Democratic Party, UDP, has started popularising its Five-Point Agenda Transformative Manifesto by setting up different committees to deal with specific areas of the manifesto.
The Fulladu West NAM, Sanna K Jawara coordinates a six-man team of experts tasked to popularise the party’s policy on agriculture, nutrition and food security. The agriculture policy is part of the party’s top priorities in their first term in office.
“The party will hold its last rally before the presidential campaign in Jahally Parcharr tomorrow which will entirely centre on the agricultural policy and how it will elevate farmers from abject poverty to self-reliance,” Hon. Jawara told The Standard.
Lamin Manneh, a former staff of the Africa Development Bank, and crucial player in the formulation of the UDP manifesto, said Gambia’s agricultural sector has been in distress starting 1995 because the sector was “neglected and disrupted” for the benefit of virtually one man who became the only big farmer in the country.
“Now the UDP is saying we have to move this agenda and bring power back to the people, to support the Gambian farmer because the Gambia depends on agriculture. That is one of the main foreign exchange earners and biggest employer in the country. It contributes about 37% of GDP, just second to the service sector and the biggest employer,” he said.
Manneh said the UDP wants to get the Gambian farmer to live comfortably off his/her farming and not to become a peasant farmer who just survives through cultivating rice, millet or cassava.
“We want them to move from that farmer to agric business people where they can produce enough food to feed themselves, and sell the surplus to earn significant income from their labour. In that way, we will lift hundreds of Gambians out of poverty to middle income status and once that is done, those people become consumers as well they will buy other consumables from the markets and pay VAT on it,” he explained.
This, he added, “increases the state income and welfare of farmers and their families. So they will stay on the farm because if you look at the farming community is dwindling, we are having more people and fewer farmers. So where do you get food? You import it at the expense of a huge amount of foreign exchange.”
“We want to revert it. Import substitution, produce the food here and keep the foreign exchange and at the end, sell part of that food and earn foreign exchange. That is the way forward for the Gambia,” Manneh added.
But to achieve that, Manneh noted, the country’s farmers cannot continue with backbreaking farming.
“We have to move from there to more mechanized farming. We want the government to develop skill centers to train agricultural sector workers, bring back extension workers to the country and bring back mechanized farming,” he said.
He said farmers will get access to tractors and power tillers to plant, weed and make harvesting easier for them.
“We will empower the farmers by giving them machinery they need and the credit to buy certain things like pesticide and fertilizer. But the government will subsidize it and when we do, we will make sure that fertilizer is not sold outside of the country like it is happening. A UDP government will bring an end to that,” he said.
Manneh said the UDP is also trying to establish an agricultural development bank for the farmers to access funds through interest rate subsidization.
“We can have very cheap credit for the farmer to be able to do his work at will. We will also review the land tenure system to ensure land and abundant water is available so that we can have whole year farming,” he noted. He said the policy is targeting 100 bags of rice per hectare. Manneh said a UDP government will take advantage of the African Development Bank to fund its agricultural transformative agenda.
Manneh, who studied international law, development management and transition integration, has been an international civil servant virtually all his working life. He started his civil service work with the Senegambia Confederation and later at State House as administrative officer before joining the African Development Bank.