The minister of Agriculture has said that after series of consultations with the government, his Ministry will revamp the Veterinary Department as a body of its own effective 1th January 2013, adding that the move will help address livestock issues in the country.
Solomon Owens made the revelation recently during a meeting with the livestock owners, representatives from the Ministry of the Interior, the Kanilai Group International (KGI), district chiefs, alkalolu, security chiefs, farmers and a host of representatives from different parts of the country.
The meeting, which was organised by the Shepherd and Cattle Farmers Organisation also known as The Gambia Anti-Cattle Rustling Association, was held at the Region Two Regional Education Directorate conference hall in Brikama, West Coast Region.
The convergence was aimed at bringing together all stakeholders to address among other things the problems that persistently arise between the farmers and livestock owners. It also availed stakeholders to discuss ways of curbing cattle rustling in the country and the protection and preservation of our livestock and the way forward.
Minister Owens said that the rate of cattle in The Gambia has decreased significantly in the past years, with a total number of only 390, 000 heads across the country, compared to the early 60ths and 70ths (before the Sahel drought of 1973-74), when the cattle in the country outnumbered the human population.
He commended members of the Shepherd and Cattle Farmers Organisation for their untiring efforts and sacrifices, saying they have been actively and tirelessly engaged in the protection and preservation of the country's livestock in the past few years, which is geared towards the socio-economic development of the nation.
The Agric minister noted that in its drive to combat cattle rustling in the country, the organisation had recovered over 437 heads of cattle between 2006-2011, something they did voluntarily. Commenting on the problems that persistently exist between livestock owners and farmers particularly on the issue of the cattle tracts and cattle watering points, Minister Owens said it has become a concern in recent times. "Each party blames the other for failing to fulfill the required obligation, which normally erupts to disputes between them," he remarked.
He then challenged all stakeholders to come up with tangible solutions to combat the prevailing problems and settle their differences in a peaceful manner. He further urged livestock owners to exercise willingness to bring their livestock into the Gambian market, in order to help reduce the importation of cattle from neighbouring countries.
He also emphasised the need for all butchers across the country to get a license before operating any activity related to their profession. He urged them to ensure all slaughtered livestock are inspected before they are taken to the market for sale and consumption.
Minister Owens assured that his Ministry will support the Shepherd and Cattle Farmers Organisation as they strive to achieve their objectives.
Lamin Jobarteh, the Attorney General and minister of Justice, underscored the significance of the meeting. He said that such dialogue meetings will pave the way in addressing problems affecting the farmers and livestock owners. He added that it will also ease the job of the police, chiefs and the alkalolu.
He denounced the allegation made by some speakers that the police are bribed to grant bail to cattle rustlers or even suspects. He pointed out that every person who did not commit murder, rape or any related serious crime has the right to bail after 72 hours in police custody, according to the law. This, he said, does not mean that the police have been bribed.
Minister Jobarteh opined that most of the blame should rather go to the alkalolu, many of whom are in the habit of issuing out attestations to livestock dealers without seeing the animal itself, while some will slaughter them in their villages without having any authentic attestation. He made it clear that if the trend continues, it will make it difficult to track down the unscrupulous elements whom he described as 'professional thieves'. He finally urged the village heads to be steadfast in the execution of their duties.
Seedy Dem, the president of the Shepherd and Cattle Farmers Organisation, thanked the ministers and other stakeholders for attending the meeting. He assured that his organisation will do all it can to ensure that cattle rustling becomes a thing of the past in the country.