The Gambian Goldmine - Dr Nick Maurice
The Gambian Goldmine It distresses me each time I go to Gunjur during the mango season to see that as much as 90% of the fruit from the hundreds of mango trees in the orchards and private compounds is lying rotting on the ground, while here in Marlborough it costs me 100 delasis to buy a single mango in our local supermarket and the mango may have come from a much greater distance, South America or India, at much greater cost. And, by the way, the South American mango does not taste as good as the Gambian mango!
If we could “get our act together” the mango industry in The Gambia could make a vital contribution to business development and the creation of wealth in rural areas. And this of course includes not simply the fresh fruit but dried and juiced mango in addition.
With its active port in Banjul, close to the main concentration of mango trees in the West Coast Region, and its proximity to Europe, The Gambia has an advantage over other West African countries such as Mali which has a thriving mango industry but whose fruit has to travel overland to Côte d'Ivoire and Abidjan before being exported to other countries at some considerable cost. The people of Gunjur recognise the potential for the industry and have created a Gunjur Mango Growers Cooperative (GMGC) with a membership of 75 mango growers who work closely with the local NGO Trust Agency for Rural Development (TARUD) set up in 1997 through collaboration between the Gunjur Link Committee and the Marlborough Brandt Group.
In August 2018 a group of ten young people from UK spent two weeks in Gunjur as part of a Thriving Through Venture programme. Four of the members of the group worked alongside a Gambian partner to explore the barriers to the export of mangoes and make recommendations as to the “way forward”.
The TTV and TARUD Teams working together They met with individual mango growers, with the GMGC with the Gunjur Development Agency and with agencies concerned with the industry. The excellent detailed report that they produced has been shared with many agencies and with His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, prior to his visit to The Gambia in December 2018. The report is available on request. There are currently several business agencies that are exporting mangoes to Europe but they tend to be dependent on their own plantations/orchards rather than operating through existing mango growers. This is for the understandable reason that they see purchasing from local mango growers is less cost effective. By developing their own orchards the big businesses have greater control over the varieties of mangoes grown suitable for export, infestation by fruit fly and experience less transport costs and ultimately they make more money.
Mangoes waiting for export
The problem for individual mango growers in Gunjur is that they currently receive no benefits from the fruit they are growing in their orchards and compounds and can’t even sell them in the local market because everyone has mango trees. On a recent visit to Gunjur, November 28 – December 4 2018, Baai Jabang the Director of TARUD and I had the opportunity to have very constructive meetings with a number of agencies involved in the mango industry, including Gambian Horticultural Enterprises (GHE), Gambian Investment and Export Promotion Agency (GIEPA), Radville Farms and very importantly the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). This latter meeting came about thanks to talks held in teleconference with the International Non Governmental Organisation, Europe, Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Liaison Committee (COLEACP) who are working with FAO in The Gambia. Since our meeting with FAO, their representative has been to Gunjur to discuss the potential for collaboration with the GMGC. This is a great step forward.
Meeting with the Gunjur Development Association (GDA)
Without exception, all agencies were agreed that the development of mango industry could, and to a very small extent already is, providing a solution to the unemployment problem facing many young people in The Gambia. They also agreed that what is required is a National Strategy for the Mango Industry developed by all the relevant stakeholders and led by the Ministry of Trade and Industry and by the Ministry of Agriculture. If a “round table” conference of all the interested parties, led and chaired by these two Ministries, could be held to agree on a national strategy for the mango industry this could provide a major step forward.
In a private meeting I held on 15 January 2019 at the Gambian High Commission in London with His Excellency Francis Blain, the High Commissioner, we agreed that once such a strategy had been developed, and a clear budget prepared relating to the investment that would be required for the development of the mango industry, an approach could be made through the UK Government and the Commonwealth for the development of the industry.
Within UK Parliament there are many All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) relating to different countries and different issues. There are APPGs for Africa, the Commonwealth and Food and Development. The High Commissioner agreed that once a national strategy for the mango industry was in place we would approach these APPGs and call a meeting with them and with the UK Department for International Development to consider investment in the mango industry in The Gambia.
We hope on behalf of the people of Gunjur and the West Coast Region of The Gambia that is so rich in mango trees, that the Ministries of Agriculture and Trade and Industry will take the lead and call all the interested parties together including the Gunjur Mango Growers Cooperative.
Editor’s note: Nick Maurice is a retired Medical Doctor and the founder of the Gunjur-Marlborough link which has been existing for over 35 years. He served as director of Commonwealth organisation Building International Links for Development( BUILD) for almost a decade until his retirement.