“A Goldmine in The Gambia” - Dr Nick Maurice
“A Goldmine in The Gambia” Background to Mango Project Following the publication in 1980 of the Brandt Report, “North South – A programme for Survival” a group of people in the market town of Marlborough, Wiltshire UK (population 8,000) came together to discuss how they might respond to the recommendations in the report, not least the suggestion that new partnerships should be developed between communities of all kinds in the North and South. The then Gambian High Commissioner to London Abdoulie Bojang recommended Gunjur in the Kombo South region of The Gambia for the development of a partnership with Marlborough. The community of Gunjur has been linked to the market town of Marlborough in Wiltshire, UK since 1982.
This partnership has been based on the understanding that people in both communities have as much to learn from each other as they have to give and to date the link has involved the exchange of some 1700 people between the two communities although that exchange programme has been undermined by the impossibility of getting UK visas for young Gambians to visit Marlborough as they did annually until 2009.
In 1997 following the award to the Marlborough Brandt Group (MBG) of a major grant of £407,000 from the UK National Lottery and in consultation with partners in Gunjur it was felt that while the exchange programme had been vital for learning and the development of trust between people in Marlborough and Gunjur, the time had come to address some of the development problems facing the Gunjur community, poor health (malaria, gastroenteritis, poor nutrition etc) low literacy rates for women, lack of access to clean water, absence of early childhood education etc. It was agreed to form a Gambian NGO TARUD (Trust Agency for Rural Development).
Since then much has been achieved by MBG working in partnership with TARUD. A women’s literacy programme, malaria eradication through the provision of bednets, a water and sanitation programme, a microcredit scheme for young entrepreneurs, a health education programme, a women’s 12 acre vegetable garden have all led to a major improvement in the livelihoods of people in Gunjur. The Political Environment.
TARUD and MBG have been collaborating during the past 20 years despite working in an adverse political environment caused by a military coup in 1994 and the installation of the dictator, Yayha Jammeh a, then, 29 year old Captain in the army. He was ousted in 2016 and the new President Adama Barrow was installed bringing with him a team of very experienced people in his various ministries and a determination to make The Gambia the ‘Human Rights capital of West Africa’. Internationally there may be future economic opportunities, given that The Gambia has been welcomed back into the Commonwealth prior to the Heads of Government meeting to be held in London in April 2018 having been withdrawn by the previous President in 2013 who declared the Commonwealth a ‘Colonial organisation’.
The Economic Environment With a population of 1.9 million, The Gambia is one of the poorest countries in the world rated at 173 out of 188 in the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index. Its economy is largely dependent on tourism which suffered badly during the Ebola crisis despite there being no cases of Ebola in the country or in Senegal which surrounds the Gambia on three sides with the Atlantic Ocean on the fourth. The potential for the development of a mango industry.
The West Coast region of The Gambia is potentially rich in mango trees, there being tens of thousands of such trees bearing fruit of predominantly six different varieties, Keith, Kent, Jurr, Sierra Leone, Tandok, Core-man. The trees and orchards are in private ownership by families and communities. At present a very small minority of the fruit is either consumed or sold locally and an even smaller percentage is exported as fresh fruit through Radville Farms operating for Whealmoor. By far the majority of the fruit, probably as much as 90% lies rotting on the ground.
In the community of Gunjur, 83 mango growers have come together to form a Gunjur Mango Growers Cooperative (GMGC) in order to explore ways in which they can collaborate to improve the quality and increase the sale of their mangoes both locally and internationally including to the UK and surrounding ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) countries. They have drawn up a development plan.
In discussions with local mango growers in Gunjur it appears that Radville Farms have recently been accepting mangoes from them and taking them to their headquarters for sorting prior to export, but the farmers have not been receiving payment for their produce the excuse given that they were not suitable for export but no evidence given! Considerable hostility was expressed.
A basket of 100+ mangoes in The Gambia costs £1.40 whereas they are sold at over £1.10 per fresh mango in supermarket stores in the UK and as much as £1.80 for a packet of dried mangoes. In Gunjur the Mayor (Alikali) and elders in Gunjur have allocated a plot of land 100 metres x 50 metres, one mile from the centre of the town on which both a cold storage and a mango drying facility could be placed. Clearly, training of young men and women will be required in the development of a proper management structure and the execution by such a facility and all aspects of the value chain including cold storage, sorting, drying, packaging, transport to export facility etc.
We met on 29 October 2017 with a number of stakeholders including a major meeting with TARUD trustees, 13 members of the GMGC, at which were also present Fallalo Touray, until recently Director General in the Ministry of Agriculture, Demba Touray, Chair of the Village Development Committee, Lamin Janneh, successful local businessman etc.
Points raised at this meeting included:-
• There is huge potential for the development of the mango industry • Unemployment among young men and taking the ‘back way’ is a major problem • The mango industry could be a solution to the problem • The GMGC has done a lot of work but long term intense commitment is required with trust between members • A management structure is urgently required with skilled people in place • An MOU is required between GMGC, Ministry of Trade and Industry and Ministry of Agriculture in order for GMGC to gain their support • The World Bank is interested in providing support but not until due processes have been set in place. • Communication with UN FAO would be helpful • Collaboration between United Purpose and TARUD could achieve this. • The potential of this industry is not just for Gunjur but could spread to the whole of the West Coast region. • Concern about Radville Farms not paying the mango producers. • A strategy paper will be produced and next weekend 5/11/17 it will be agreed who will be responsible for developing this. This paper will include a. Business Management skills required – institutional responsibility – relationship with Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Trade and Industry b. Encouragement of young people c. Training of mango growers d. Care of the trees and fruit fly e. Proper care and sorting of the fruit f. Drying mangoes g. Cold storage where? Cost? Maersk? h. Routes to export i. Financial Resources required In a subsequent visit to Gunjur and discussion with the Gunjur Mango Growers’ Cooperative by Malcolm Johnston who in the past has been involved in importing papaya from Ghana to UK, he made the following points:- • The opportunity will only be fully realised by selling into the three markets available - whole fruit, dried fruit & puree. In the medium to long term, export of whole fruit only represents too small a percentage of the whole crop to cover the significant costs involved in setting up and in meeting export quality requirements. • To meet the standards required by European importers, internationally recognised accreditation will be required, such as SGF, BRC & ISO. The ability to conduct onsite tests of consignments to ensure they meet international standards will be required. • Both the Keitt (seemingly incorrectly spelt Keith in the GMGC draft) & Kent varieties that make up 80% of the trees in the Gunjur area produce very large fruit (around 600 - 700 gms) compared with popular European varieties such as Alphonso (around 400 grams). Investigation needs to be done to establish to what extent this affects the market for export of whole fresh fruit and the impact it might have on prices. Asking Tesco would be a good start. • I have been unable to find any information on the other mango varieties mentioned in the GMGC draft plan. I imagine these are therefore local names. It would be useful to know the international names of these varieties, namely Jurr, Sierra Leone, Tandok & Core-man (Mandinka), so that we can evaluate their characteristics. • Fruit fly is a major on-going problem in mango cultivation and it can be extremely difficult to control. Whole consignments are liable to be rejected at the destination country if ANY larvae are found to be present in any of the fruit. Minimising the problem can only be achieved by sustained co-ordinated & committed effort, starting in the orchard. This includes good husbandry around trees (dealing with fallen fruit immediately, weeding, bait attractants, pesticides where permissable etc) Complete co-operation from all growers in an area is essential for this to be effective. • An existing collaboration in the form of the co-operative will be attractive to investors, who would rather deal with one organisation than a collection of individuals with competing interests. Dissemination of information will be a lot easier when dealing with representatives of a group rather than with individuals. • It is likely that a maximum of 30% of fruit will be of export quality as whole fruit. Selection & picking at the correct stage of ripeness using proper tools that prevent fruit falling on the ground as well as prompt & careful handling in transit to the processing plant will be important. • Whole fruit need to be chilled rapidly and kept in chilled conditions from the point of arrival at the processing plant. The fruit should remain chilled from dispatch until arrival at the destination. It will not be possible to sea-freight without effective and continuous refrigeration. • The proximity of an international sea-port close to fruit growing areas presents an excellent opportunity for cost effective exports. Combined with a favourable political climate and a readily available labour force, The Gambia presents an attractive opportunity for potential investors. If Mali can export successfully, it should be easier from The Gambia! • It is unlikely that significant volumes of fruit will ever be able to be cost effectively air-freighted. Current air freight costs are around $1.50 per kg, compared with sea-freight rates of $0.18 per kg. The ability to sea-freight is therefore essential. • I believe that the Gunjur Mango Growers Cooperative (GMGC) draft plan is fundamentally flawed in that it places too much weight on achieving sales success and premium prices in the local market. I remain unconvinced that there is any real market locally when mangoes are in season. They are too ubiquitous. Refrigeration could only extend the shelf life by a maximum of 3 weeks, which will have a very limited impact on local sales, and only then at the end of the season. There may however be a local market for aseptically packed puree/juice. Properly packed, this ambient product has a shelf life of at least 6 months. • It will be necessary to find alternative fruits to process outside the mango season. This is to cover fixed plant costs and to provide employment throughout the year. Possible other fruits may be banana (dried and pureed), pineapple, tomatoes etc. Further investigation is required. • The preferred mango puree imported into Europe is Alphonso, which has the status of a commodity product with a ready market. It remains to be seen whether alternative varieties can achieve this status and whether such alternatives would fetch a similar price to Alphonso (currently around $1.00 per kg). It may be necessary to offer a lower price in order to persuade processors to switch varieties. • At the meeting in Gunjur we did not discuss the exact location of the plot of land that has been offered to GMGC, but it needs to be close to the main road (tarmac to the door please!) with good access for articulated vehicles transporting 40' containers to Banjul. A good water & electricity supply will also be required, allthough the latter could easily be augmented by generators. • Equipment for washing, sorting, grading, pulping, homogenising, de-aerating, pasteurising & aseptically packing will be required. Typically equipment to be able to carry out these processes on any scale might cost upwards of $1m. Drying equipment would be in addition to this, as would the buildings required to house them. • The next stage is to prepare a budget of costs and potential revenue over a 5 year period.
Fairtrade In 2015 Marlborough was recognized as a Fairtrade Town. This was as a result of work done to a. encourage more retail outlets including cafe’s, restaurants, coffee bars and supermarkets to stock and sell fairly traded products e.g. coffee, tea, sugar, bananas etc b. agreement by Schools, Churches etc that they would serve Fairtrade products in their canteens and at meetings During Fairtrade fortnight 2016 Marlborough hosted a tea farmer from Kenya Patrick Kabeira who gave a magnificent presentation in Marlborough Town Hall on the impact that Fairtrade had had on his community. By adopting principles of fairness in the production of tea (men and women involved, no child labour, fair income distribution etc) they had received premium support for education and health facilities, including the building of a school, hospital etc. In the Gunjur context, here again there is an opportunity for the community to adopt fair trade principles in the production of mangoes and take advantage of the premiums that would be available once such principles have been adopted and recognised by the international agency Flocert and the Fairtrade Foundation. It is hoped that two representatives from TARUD might come to Marlborough during Fairtrade fortnight 2018 to give a presentation on the mango industry. TESCO
In Marlborough we have been in close communication with the Manager of our local branch of Tesco who will be introducing us to the chief fruit buyer for Tesco in the hopes that he might come to The Gambia in the near future. A Way Forward
In October 2017 meetings were held with the President of The Gambia, HE Adama Barrow; the British Ambassador to The Gambia, Sharon Wardle and her Deputy Greg O’Gorman; The Minister of Trade and Industry, Dr Isatou Touray; the NGO sector including United Purpose, a major British NGO which has been operating in The Gambia for many years and would welcome the opportunity to engage with potential funders to enable this programme to develop; colleagues in TARUD and the GMGC.
President Barrow and Minister Isatou Touray were in complete agreement that the development of the mango industry could be one solution to The Gambia’s major problem of migration by young men taking the ‘back way’ via Libya and the Mediterranean to Europe many dying in their attempts, as they see no future for employment in The Gambia. The development of this industry could have a major impact on employment and wealth creation in the country.
Isatou Touray agreed to provide experts to assist TARUD and United Purpose with the development of the strategy and business plan for the industry, including people from the Gambian Import and Export Promotion Agency GIEPA http://www.giepa.gm It is hoped that a conference for all stakeholders will be held in The Gambia on the development of the mango industry to be held during the mango season June – August 2018 at which President Barrow agreed in principle to be present and to which Tesco fruit buyers would be warmly invited.
A meeting is being held with Harriet Baldwin, Minister in the UK Department for International Development on 24 April at which we shall raise the question of DFID grants to The Gambia which have been withdrawn for many years.
Editor’s note: Nick Maurice is a retired Medical Doctor and the founder of Gunjur Marlborough link which has been existing for over 35 years. He served as director of Commonwealth organization Building International Links for Development( BUILD)for almost a decade until his retirement.