The first-ever national farmers' convergence with key development partners, government officials and those from the private sector, dubbed 'National Farmer's Conference' ended Wednesday at the Central River Region (CRR) Island Town of Janjanbureh, with renewed pledges by government and partners to support farmers and their associations in order to produce desirable products that will enhance the country's prosperity.
Organised by the government of The Gambia through the Ministry of Agriculture with funding from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the event attracted cabinet ministers and hundreds of farmers and their association representatives across the country.
With the theme 'Pursuing Dialogue for Efficiency in Farming in The Gambia' the forum was meant to sensitise the farmers on the development processes in the country as well as highlight their bottlenecks in a bid to chart a way forward. It was also designed to determine the nature and scope of interests, priorities, challenges, needs and the requirements of the various farmer's groups and associations and their expectations from the government and other support sources.
The forum availed the participants the opportunity to reaffirm their individual and collective commitment to a transparent, accountable and inclusive process of dialogue between and among stakeholders in the Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) sector.
Addressing the gathering, the FAO country representative, Babagana Ahmadou, extended joyous greetings from the director general of the FAO to all farmers and their associations in the country as well as the government of The Gambia on the occasion of the first ever national farmers conference. He also said he was honoured and privileged to participate in this historic event and more so because FAO provided assistance to the activities that resulted in the farmers' convergence.
The FAO country rep explained that the approbation stemmed from FAO's priority in the Africa region, advocacy and support to member governments from direct participation of grassroots institutions at all stages of the development process, as reflected in the organisation's strategic objective and results for the period 2012-2019. "We are equally pleased at the response of the farmers, operators and association of the sector to participate in the conference and make valuable contribution to moving the sector forward to desirable levels of efficiency and performance," he said.
The minister of Agriculture, Solomon Owens, expressed delight at this first ever Farmers Conference. He described the agriculture and natural resources sector asthe largest and the most sensitive in the country due to its role as a livelihood provider for over 70 percent of the national food requirements.
He added: "Also, as a yearly source of income for farming households and other operators in the economy, the sector has the greatest potential to turn the fortunes of this country around, from net importer to net exporter of food and sustain the achievement of the new era. This is because the sector possess sustainable natural resources (human, land, soil, water, livestock's, marine, forest and wildlife)."
The agriculture minister reminded the gathering that they are all aware that the prosperity of the sector depends on all of them collectively and not individually. He said that they should all react at the shortest possible time in order to deliberate on any issue of urgency that will threaten the sector's survival, impede its development or delay its prosperity. Owens stressed that the government has been consistently providing support to the sector in every national development framework it has established in the last 10 years including the Poverty Reduction Strategy1 and II.
He continued: "Government has also recently established other framework in which the ANR sector is predominantly positioned and they are in various stages of implementation. I refer to the successor to the PRSP II in the name of the Programme for Accelerated Growth and Employment, the GNAIP, the ANR sector Policy, the PIWAMP and the NERICA Rice Production and Promotion just to name a few.
Government has also in the last fiscal period raised the level of its budgetary allocations to refer to the sector from the traditional 1% to a significant 6% threshold set in the Maputo Declaration for support to Agriculture. Very recently, a total of over D43Million was allocated to the Ministry of Agriculture to secure seeds and another total of D69 million to produce and distribute fertilizers for recovery of farmer's production in regard to recent emergency situation in food production in the country.
Officially declaring the forum open on behalf of the vice president and minister of Women's Affairs, Lamin Jobarteh, the Attorney General and minister of Justice, explained that the participation of farmersdemonstrates their interest, commitment and willingness to discuss and find solutions to priority issues that impede the ANR sector from perfuming as highly and efficiently as desired.
His words: "This government has always pursued two clear over-arching goals for this country's prosperity, sustainable human development and the highest living standard possible for the people. A number of strategies have been established and are in various stages of finalisation and implementation to achieve these goals, Millennium Development Goals, PRSP I and II and presently the PAGE."
The Justice minister stressed that as a government they have always placed agriculture at the highest biggest level of agenda of priorities in national development, adding that this decision was not taken by chance but by the overwhelming evidence of the role and contribution the sector has been and will be making to the economy and development of the country. He noted that more recently government had established the GNAIP -Gambia National AgricultureInvestment Programmeand Plan and action are far advanced to secure support from various sources, primarily development partners and government 's own resources to implement this framework.
The Justice minister explained further that the government has been monitoring the application of the emphasis on the sector in its priority development agenda and found mixed results citing that in the past few years the ANR sector had actually made some gains although there is need for more efforts, in both production and productivity, especially in staple food commodities and more particularly cereals.
"Even rice which is ourmajor commodity in our national food basket has shown an increase from 56% to 74% although that too is far behind what is actually needed in the country. Groundnuts are beginning to show some recovery to past levels but still far behind desired performance," he stated,
While government is extremely happy with this development, he added, they are equally concerned at the real food security situation in the country and by default the performance of the ANR sector which is the custodian of this great national priority and goal. He outlined that over 80% of the households in the country cannot secure food supplies for 12 months of the year adding that at best their stock lasts for six months on average 2-3 months and that is when the weather isnot misbehaving.
Minister Jobarteh expressed optimism that the government will continue with even greater efforts to support farmers and their associations to produce desirable products that will enhance the efficiency and performance of the ANR sector and ensure the country's prosperity in general.
Alhaji Lamin Sanneh, the governor of West Coast Region, on behalf of the governor of Central River Region (CRR) welcomed the delegates to CRR. Other speakers included Jainaba Nyang representing Action Aid International The Gambia, and scores of farmers' representatives.