Thursday, August 14, 2008

Aja Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy, vice president and secretary of state for Women’s Affairs, has called for absolute priority to be given to domestic food production, in order to reduce dependency on the international market.Vice President Njie-Saidy made this remark during the official opening ceremony of a one-day consultative forum on the National Food Security Situation and Response Strategies, held at the Paradise Suites Hotel, yesterday.

She said that predictions from FAO suggest that food prices will remain high for at least the next ten years.  According to VP Njie-Saidy, reports also indicate that The Gambia is one of the most vulnerable countries in the sub-region.  As such, she noted, The Gambia was already facing deficit in food supply before the global grain problem due to its high dependence on rain-fed agriculture, which is both unpredictable and erratic, among other issues.

“We are also aware of the export restrictions in the countries we import rice from, due to the increased demands in those countries.  This confirms the saying that people whose food stores are located outside their borders will forever continue to be vulnerable,” she noted.

In the light of this, she went on to say that it is time to rebuilt national food economies that require immediate and long-term robust strategies and indeed political backstopping. “Peasants and small farmers should be encouraged through better processes and prices for their farm products and stable markets to produce food for themselves and their communities.  Landless families from rural and urban areas have to get access to land, seeds and water to produce their own food.  This means increased investment in peasant and farmer-based food production for domestic markets,” she observed.

She also seized the opportunity to outline government’s belief and conviction that peasants and small farmers can feed the world and should therefore form a key part of the solution. The Gambia government, she added, under President Jammeh’s leadership, is committed to developing the agricultural sector for now and posterity.

The Gambian agricultural sector, VP Njie-Saidy continued, has suffered in recent years from declining production due to adverse weather conditions coupled with a range of other constraints, including weak levels of support. “Using agricultural information collected by the National Agricultural Development Agency (NADA), Department of Planning (DoP) and Concern Universal, analysis was undertaken together with WFP/FAO, in May 2008, which showed that since 2005, total food grain production has declined by 35% for the 2007/2008 harvest.

This has led to a critical situation as, when balanced against needs, and WFP estimates show a widening gap between the local production of food, and the growing consumption needs (increasing due to population growth), Vice President Njie-Saidy revealed.

Agricutural land

“The total agricultural land for The Gambia is put at 1,036,534 hectares and classified into various categories, according to soil suitability.  There are, however, 558,000 hectares considered suitable for agriculture production, covering all the 6 regions.  Of the 320,358 hectares cultivated in 2007, 63.3% was put under cereal production (mostly millet, while 36.7% was put to groundnut production, the main cash crop.  Only 5.2% (16,588 hectares) was put under rice,” she further revealed.

According to the vice president, the general performance of the agricultural sector has been constrained by the following: limited financial resources, inadequate rural infrastructure, lack of sector plans and weak coordination among and within relevant government agencies, parastatals and other stakeholders, limited access to agricultural inputs and markets, low participation by the private sector, and also the level and the different forms of tax.

She indicated that government’s efforts are in line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP II) and the Vision 2020, and will help to respond to the soaring food prices.

VP Njie-Saidy finally called for concerted efforts in a bid to curb the menace of global food crisis and to attain food self-sufficiency.

Other speakers at the ceremony included Bakary Sonko, director of NADA, Haddijatou Lamin Njie, country director of VSO, The Gambia and Kujejatou Manneh-Jallow, director of ActionAid The Gambia. Babou Jobe, director general of NARI, chaired the ceremony.

Author: by Assan Sallah