Planning and Promotion of Agric Enterprises in Gambia
Friday, April 13, 2012
With whole nation and people of The Gambia kneeling down stretching beggar hands for salvation from hunger due to failed agricultural performance, there may still be untried and untested solutions near enough for trial. When bigger nations like Mali cry to the blue sky for enduring a land locked geo-physical share of nature’s provisions, The Gambia is sitting on more than enough reserve of untapped water and land resources with potential gainful yields to propel the nation’s economic engine.
Soil and Water Management
The Gambia is endowed with very rich soil and most readily accessible water from the sea, River Gambia, and through ground water embarking on bore holes. Three months of rainfall could not be lesser grace from nature in addition. All that sparkling water is sitting right in front of everyone’s open eyes. Few people venture commercial agriculture at back yard level or just enough to keep families going. Farming is both traditional and quite readily, most people rely on it as source of revenue however, basic that amounts to.
Memory serves to recall a whole government institution known as Soil and Water Management Unit (SWAM) under Ministry of Agriculture. How could a nation expect to boost agricultural productivity while government of the day embarks on destroying talents and institutions that serve as back bone of this important sector? It is reliably learnt that some of the people who once worked and had training as experts on Soil and Water Management are back in The Gambia. There is however, no word or action indicating there useful presence. Dr Sidat Yaffa one of the trained staff of SWAM who wrote numerous articles on the subject at hand is currently running radio shows on agriculture over West Coast Radio in The Gambia. There may be some others elsewhere within the country whose expertise needs tapping on what this paper suggests. We have career agric talents like Sait Drammeh with vast knowledge of what is stock to propel the sector.
Military encroachment of state land
In almost 20 years ago, very little mention of this important establishment is heard of. Since military coup of July 1994, the premises where this institution was housed has been seized by the army in their bid of taking over all that massive piece of land now known as Yundum Army Barracks. Some of the institutions that fell to The Gambia Army land possession encroachment include Yundum Primary School, Agriculture Mechanical unit, Crop protection, Cooperative Training Centre, Agricultural Communication Unit, and of course former Yundum College premises to name some known places. The Gambia Army has since built concrete structures to house soldiers in the holy name of national security. Militarisation of Gambian land holdings has extended to other regions.
Recovering agriculture through better use of water and land
Tapping on the country’s vast water resources with a pool of agricultural experts in numerous high profile jobs around the world, there is no serious big pain in recovering the already known failed agriculture. There are willing and able experts like Ernest Aubee now heading a regional programme in Abuja, Nigeria. With simple e-mail contacts, these experts will have no trouble coming together placing a working document on the table for national consultation and debate. Given the speed and highly enhanced platforms of modern communication, it does not require endless unproductive workshops (walk chops) getting all Gambian experts on agriculture within a short span of time.
Willing and able, the state of The Gambia’s agriculture can be put in right place by those who know exactly what needs doing. Some of these people have worked around the country and know every spot of fertile soil and good water required for various types of crops.
River Gambia is grossly untapped
Over 300 kilometers of fresh water flows along the entire length of The Gambia with only hippopotamus, fish and crocodiles enjoying as swimming pool. Agricultural potential and commercial prospects for enterprise, using that steady stream of water has been largely neglected or very rarely put to productive use. All sorts of studies have been carried and whole agricultural research institutions established and running for over 20 years. Yet, after all that, one word we hear about is FARMING.
It appears as though agriculture and farming are synonymous. Of course they are not. But our experts are yet to tell us any difference even though we all know there is vast difference. This huge reserve of water known as River Gambia has great potential for commercial navigation and to provide all year round harvest for alternative crops. Considering the ecology, tourism can be boosted with eco tourism further inland. Paving the two banks of River Gambia with palm trees and banana plantations will attracts much of the wild life that tourists want to see. Not just that, but who would not want to feed your eyes on a fleet of green scenery healthy coconut and palm trees as you navigate from Banjul to Koina on a boat trip round Gambia ?
Palm Tree Cultivation for Commercial use
Almost every part of The Gambia has good soil to grow palm trees. This is more viable along the River Gambia and swampy areas. Within the coastal areas too both palm tree and coconut are commercially viable plants. Some people have tried palm tree and do make occasional harvest of the fruit for low level oil extraction. If taken serious enough, palm tree cultivation opens up wider prospects for palm oil industry that can feed exports and provide jobs for many, even some physically infirm.
By some twist of irony, coconut which has potential for large scale coir industry in The Gambia, only few people have gone into cultivating this anywhere beyond garden or back yard use. For palm tree, what we know most about it is palm wine tapping to send the joyful users sleeping well enough. When you name palm in The Gambia, what comes to mind is the joyful hours of cheap wine provided by palm wine tappers. Commercial cultivation of palm and coconut will serve as reliable source of earning and added beauty to The Gambia’s ecological possession. This is an area open to expert interest and feasibility studies.
Cassava, Sweet Potatoes, and Beans
Talk about agriculture or crops in The Gambia, peanut and rice readily spring to mind. To an extent, farming, agriculture, peanut, and rice are key words of the sector. Cassava, sweet potatoes, and beans offer some of better nutrition and demand no greater labour than rice and peanut. For some reason, Gambian farmers are made to bear in mind that only peanuts will fetch cash at time of harvest.
That came about with profiteering dealers back in the days. They have since hooked up Gambian farmers and the whole agricultural sector tied down on a crop that no longer bears expected returns. At least for a change other substitutes deserve testing.
It does not have to be driven by commercial interest of peanut merchants. The Gambia’s agriculture has to be liberated. Communities and individuals have to be properly sensitised to venture into alternative crops with higher returns at same or lower cost in terms of labour and other resource inputs.
Establishment of Agric Enterprise Department
Creating a Department of Agric Enterprise is long overdue for The Gambia’s staggering yet high potential sector. All the time, much attention has been paid to crop research and very little has been done about viable commercial agric enterprise as industry and bankable part of the sector under review. It is not enough to have technical results documented for subsequent reviews. Commercial agriculture does not have be a matter of cash crop cultivation for profiteering merchants, local or overseas.
Agricultural extension work has to include a curriculum on commercial orientation of the sector operatives. That includes all stage holders ranging from state officials, people in horticulture and broader streams of agricultural ventures in various spheres. Taking things for granted does not suffice. All stakeholders require to operate on clearly informed alternatives with variety of choice open to each and every person involved. Ministry of Trade and Industry could have a desk for commercial agriculture initiatives planned and organised on lines of enterprise gains. It appears that all government sectors are operating aloof and that is not paying much dividend.
All year harvest of alternative crops
So much research has been carried about various crops and where they do well in terms of soil and water conditions. All that information is sitting somewhere and hardly shared with the wider public. It is time to start digging not just that hard muddy soil Gambian farming communities encounter year after year. The digging has to go deeper with all the research documentation collecting dust in decades of failing agriculture The Gambia faces through years.
Provided there is total harmony between all stakeholders, prospects of making all year harvest for alternative crops in The Gambia can only be true and gainfully rewarding for people and the economy.
Sustainable Agro Industries
Put together, long and short term gains of boosting The Gambia’s agricultural sector goes beyond a wild dream. It is feasible if only all stakeholders’ share equal understanding of what it takes and resources are evenly distributed for everyone’s ready access. Conduct a thorough feasibility study and be ready to commit resources prudent. The rest is a flourishing economy sustained by readily viable agricultural enterprise industry for The Gambia and the region.