The president of the Republic over the weekend visited numerous rice fields and agricultural projects in the North Bank Region (NBR), using the opportunity to affirm his government's commitment to ensuring that the nation becomes food self-sufficient by 2016.
The visits were part of the ongoing presidential tour embarked upon by His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh, in his bid to discuss with the citizens issues pertinent to the continued development of the country, but more importantly, to assess the level of agricultural production in the country's drive towards the attainment of food self-sufficiency by 2016.
The reiteration of this commitment is a follow-up to the earlier pronouncement made by the Gambian leader in his 2013 'Dialogue With the People's Tour' during which he consistently pledged that "The Gambia will not import rice by 2016".
Accompanied by a high-powered delegation, the president and entourage will also visit other identified sites suitable for rice cultivation in all the regions of the country. Other major highlights of this 21-day tour will include major meetings in selected towns and villages where locals are expected to express their most sincere appreciation and profound gratitude to the Jammeh-led administration for the numerous development initiatives that have significantly enhanced their livelihood, whilst on the other hand, they will also solicit for more development.
At the start of his tour on Thursday, the Gambian leader and delegation received a rapturous welcome in Barra, the entrance community of the NBR. Governor Lamin Queen Jammeh, district chiefs, village heads and elders of the region led the welcoming ceremony, befitting a head of state; a man they missed in their midst since 2013.
Shortly after that colourful ceremony, President Jammeh and entourage visited a vast land in Jurunku village, identified for large-scale rice production. This land, according to experts and officials, has the potential for an all-year round large-scale rice production. Officials said it has the capacity to accommodate about 10 boreholes with each having the capacity to supply water to 10 hectares. It has for the past three years been partly cultivated by members of the National Assembly.
The Gambian leader, in his remarks at the site, used the opportunity to explain the motives of the tour, while commending the National Assembly members and the community of Jurunku for the good work.
"I want this field to be used for all-year-round rice cultivation," he told the villagers and some lawmakers, while assuring that boreholes and equipment will be delivered to strengthen the Vision 2016 rice self-sufficiency target. "Agriculture is the foundation upon which all other developments are built on," the Gambian leader added.
Jammeh, in his own words, argued that no matter how much the country produces, it would not be food self-sufficient if her citizens continue to depend on imported food. The change in the eating habit, he underscored, is therefore crucial in the nation's drive to achieving food self-sufficiency. "Therefore, we should endeavour to appreciate and consume our locally produced food," he insisted.
Appreciation to women
As expected and given the crucial role women have and continue to play in the national development process since 1994, the Gambian leader hailed them for not being back benchers in actualising his vision for the country. He hailed women for their active participation in agriculture, observing that they venture into it for the upkeep of their respective families and even take care of their children's education.
In spite of all these strides by women at family level, the Gambian leader observed that men will even charge their very own women to dig wells which they use to draw water for their agricultural activities, as well as fencing their gardens even though they are the beneficiaries.
Jammeh therefore challenged the men to change attitude and lend a hand to their wives for the sake of national development. "If men have the same gardens and farms like the women, it will be surprising what we will see," he noted.
The deputy speaker of the National Assembly, Hon. Fatou Mbaye at the site, told the Gambian leader that they have been utilising the farm for three years now. "In the first year, we were able to produce 130 bags of rice and 237 bags in the second year. In the third year, which was the last farming season, we were able to produce only 85 bags, due to lack of equipment and fertilizer," she explained.
The chief of Upper Niumi district, Momodou Chatty Cham, also at the site, used the opportunity to assure President Jammeh of their undivided loyalty and commitment to him in pursuit of his development agenda.
Governor Lamin Queen Jammeh, for his part, thanked President Jammeh for all his strides for Gambians, describing him as a leader with a great vision to totally drive out hunger through improving agriculture.
Visit to Darsilami, others
Meanwhile, day three of the tour took President Jammeh and his entourage to vast agricultural lands in Kerewan, Jokadu Darsilami, Tambana, Karantaba and Illiassa respectively, all identified as suitable areas for all-year-round large-scale rice production.
At Darsilami, the president indicated his impression with the vast land available in that community, which he said could be used for large-scale production. He immediately ordered for the deployment of three bulldozers to re-till the 223-hectare land that has been abandoned for many years. He advised that the tilling process should be followed by dry ploughing, which should start as soon as possible.
Bakang and Karantaba community rice fields
At the Bakang and Jokadu Karantaba rice fields, the Gambian leader acknowledged that they are areas with great potential for rice production. "We should feed ourselves and we must do it," he said at the site, while renewing his back-to-the-land call. He pledged his government's commitment to boost production at the site with a 'sophisticated' irrigation system that would ensure an all-year-round rice production on a large-scale.