Opinion | The current challenges of Gambia’s Agricultural Sector
By Omar Jatta:
The current challenges of Gambia’s Agricultural Sector
Agriculture is being defined in different ways by scholars, but one thing is very common about its definition is that: it involves the growing of crops and rearing of animal for either home consumption or commercial purpose. Agriculture has a predominant impact on the economies of many countries in the world. It is considered as the backbone of many countries’economy. Countries rely on it to overcome food insecurity and earn revenue for their Governments, and The Gambia is not an exception.
In The Gambia, according to statistics, it contributes about 32% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), providing employment and income for almost 80% of the country’s population. The country is being characterized with arable lands (i.e. a land capable of being used for cultivation). Generally, the agricultural sector had been the key player in the economic development of The Gambia during the era of the first president, late Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara (May Allah have mercy on his soul). Today, theagricultural sector of The Gambia has significantly declined due to several reasons. Many of these reasons are believed to be:inadequate rainfall, lack of proper policies and management in the sector, poor farming equipment, and lack of credit facilities for the youths and women who are actively involved in thissector for food production.
Fishing is one of the sectors of agricultural production in The Gambia that is faced with some challenges. The country is blessed with the Atlantic Ocean which is one of the best fishing zones in the world according to the report of Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO. It is a sector that is known for bringing good revenue to the country, and to most of the indigenous people who are directly or indirectly involved in the sector. However, the local communities where fishing take place are the least satisfied with the way fishing activities take place in their communities. This is because of the fact that most of the fishermen and mongers participating in the sector are known for causing environmental hazards which significantly affect theselocal communities.
The use of improper fishing net by some fishermen is also common in this sector. Most commentators attribute this to one reason or the other. Others believe that as most of the fishingboats dwelling in the sea are owned by foreigners, they give less regard to regulations that are meant to conserve the smallerfish(es) in the sea for sustainability. Sometimes, they (the foreigners in the sector) give less priority to the local fish mongers and thus, sell their fish to the Chinese companies plying their trade in this sector.
Also, another challenge in this sector is the less participation of the indigenous people in the sector due to one reason or the other. One of the reasons is that not many Gambians have the ability to own a fishing boat. They instead join the boats of the foreigners plying their trade in the sector in order to make a living for themselves. The worst thing that usually happens is that, most of these foreigners who are plying their trade in the fishing sector of The Gambia usually go back to their country to observe Tobaski or Koriteh feasts, and thereby creating fish scarcity for the local people during the course of the aforesaid feasts. The other reason is that most of the youths don’t have the desire to do fishing as a career as they consider it at as a low-class job.
The forestry sector is as well facing serious challenges. The forests and bushes are being dilapidated. You hardly set your eyes on a thick forest now in The Gambia. Most of them are being deforested for the purpose of timber and firewood production without any form of reforestation. According to experts, this has led to the wild animals in our forests and bushes being scared away, making the sector less attractive for tourismwhich is one the sectors that generates revenue for the country.It has also led to the shortage of rainfall during the course of rainy seasons in the country, and thereby affecting farming activities which eventually leads to scarcity of agricultural products in the market.
Animal husbandry and horticultural farming sectors are facing some difficulties in the country. Animals like: goat; sheep; cow; chicken etc. are commonly reared in the country for mainly commercial purpose. This is mostly done by the rural indigenous people who contribute significantly towards overcoming food insecurity in the country. They usually rear these animals on a small scale due to their financial inability to do it in a massive scale. These reared animals are usually taken to the urban centers to be sold out in order to generate income for themselves.
Moreover, most of these farmers are going through lot of huddles with regards to their farming activities. For instance,many young poultry farmers are crying because of the exorbitant cost of various types of chicken feeds. This has led to most farmers quitting the sector eventually as they hardly make any meaningful profit after deducting all their expenses. The other problem that the poultry farmers are faced with is the competition between the locally produced eggs and the imported ones. The importers of the foreign eggs are now aware that most people prefer the locally produced eggs for health reasons, and most of these locally produced eggs are mainly in white color. This has prompted most of the importers who were known for importing brown eggs to shift to the importation of white eggs instead of the brown eggs, pretending that the imported white eggs are locally produced, thereby, creating difficulty for local farmers to sell their eggs.
Furthermore, the cultivation of crops is accustomed to the rural people whose plights cannot be exempted. Different varieties of crops are cultivated in The Gambia, and one of the predominant ones is rice cultivation. Rice is one of the main staple foods for the country, which is mainly cultivated in the rural areas. Nowadays, the production of rice is significantly affected by the inconsistent rainy seasons which could be associated to factors like deforestation.
Some of these crops cultivated in the country are classified ascash crops (e.g. groundnut and cashew), and thus, are being exported to other countries in order to generate revenue for the Government. However, the rural dwellers being generally responsible for actively playing almost all the production roles in the agricultural sector, they are being marginalized. They lack the necessary empowerment from the Government to do their food production on a large scale. The farmers in the horticultural sector usually struggle to buy fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides due to their financial incapability. They instead resort to cultivating a small area of land that they can take care of, because they don’t have the ability to hire a tractor talk less of buying enough fertilizers for their farms. The other problem that these horticultural farmers are facing is the market competition. Certain crops and vegetables in the local market are coming from Senegal, and thereby making it difficult for local famers to have good market for their farm produce.
Access to credit facility for expansion is another problem thatmost farmers are facing. Most farmers in the country are willing to expand their agribusiness in order to generate more income and create job opportunities for the youth folks, but they hardly access funds from the government agencies due to the cumbersome prerequisites that are in place for accessing those funds.
Also, inadequate water supply has hampered food production in the agricultural sector. The rain seasons being very inconsistent in recent years, have cost farmers to lose significantly lot of income from their produce. The alternative measures like boreholes are not easily affordable for these local farmers as most of them are characterized by poverty.
Going forward, the government should look into the aforementioned concerns and come up with possible solutions like the following:
1. Provide cheapest and affordable fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides to the local farmers, thereby encouraging them to improve on their productivity as other countries might restrict the exportation of certain food products from their countries because of fear of food shortage due to Covid-19 pandemic.
2. Mechanize the agricultural sector by providing tractors and other ploughing tools to the rural farmers in order for them to produce rice and other crops in large quantity so as to reduce exportation of rice and other food commodities in the country.
3. Put quotation on the importation of poultry eggs into the country in order to encourage the local farmers to grow.
4. Encourage the giving out of interest-free loans to already established farmers and agribusiness people in the country,in order for them to expand and increase their productivity.This would significantly complement government’s effort in eradicating poverty and food insecurity in the country.
5. Establish special programs for the farmers regarding ways to overcome inadequate rainfalls e.g. water harvestingprograms, aquaponics, etc.
6. As forests have a connection with rainfall, put in place strict regulations against reckless cutting down of trees without replacement. This will conserve our forest and biodiversity and thus, enhance stable rainfall for our agricultural sector.
7. Encourage better post-harvest management, while also actively supporting agri-food processing mechanisms.
8. Give adequate support to the fisheries department and encourage young Gambians to participate in this sector, and as well encourage aquaculture in order to conserve and maintain high performing fish seeds in the country.
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