The president of the Republic has spoken of the need for more private sector involvement in the country's agriculture sector, declaring that anyone willing to support in the attainment of his newly crafted "Vision 2016 rice and other self-sufficiency agenda" is welcome. He made reference to the MA Kharafi Group that is making a huge investment into the sector, engaging in full-time production of a variety of crops in its vast farms in the Kombo Eastern District of the West Coast Region. His Excellency Sheikh Prof. Alh. Dr. Yahya Jammeh was speaking Sunday during a visit to MA Kharafi Farms in Kafuta as part of his ongoing nationwide tour designed to explore strategies that will ensure that the country breaks the culture of food importation by year 2016.
He said: "As far as I am concerned, whoever comes to help realise my vision is welcome irrespective of where you come from. What we want is to make sure that the vision is achieved. "As far as Vision 2016 is concerned, I am not giving preference to any group, Gambian or non-Gambian. What I want to achieve is the vision because I want to make sure that The Gambia becomes a major exporting country [in agricultural produce]."
Jammeh described MA Kharafi's farms in the country as a typical example of the private sector investment in the agriculture sector, and assured them of his government's continued support. "One thing that people don't understand is the fact that when we take what is grown here our health being is improved. These are very fresh produces that are not also put on a long storage. This is what we expect of Gambians to eat," he added.
The president, a farmer himself, observed that because of these locally produced onions, the quality of those imported has changed drastically.
"You go to the market the type of ginger that is sold is not fit for human consumption. So you realise that the onions changed colour after a long storage," he pointed out.
Jammeh said in the drive towards achieving the Vision 2016 objectives, he is "not giving priority to anybody", stressing that everyone is welcomed on board. "That is what is important to us because when you look at the Gambian private sector, they believe in importing and retailing. None of them wants to take a risk, but when they see others flourish, then they would follow suit. That is the nature of the Gambian private sector and a good businessman who doesn't take a risk is an opportunistic businessman," he noted.
Tour of the Kharafi farms
MA Kharafi, which has been operating in the country for the past eight years, produces onions and Irish potato in large quantities and has since been supplying the local market. Located in Kuloro and Kafuta villages, each of the farms measure over 200 hectares and are also used for corn and rice production on a seasonal basis. Its Kuloro farm is a joint venture between MA Kharafi and a Dutch firm called Farmfood, a subsidiary of Farmfrite, the world's largest producer of onion. This particular farm, according to its Area Manager, Mohamed Nagarthy, is 80% owned by MA Kharafi and 20% by farmfrite.
Taking the president on a conducted tour of the facilities at the site, Nagarthy said its Kuloro farm supplied the local market with Irish potato for eight months and onion for five months. "We also produce maize and rice in some part of the year after harvesting other produce like onion and the Irish potato. In addition to this, we have cold storage facilities that house up to 2800 tonnes of Irish potato at a time," he told the president.
For the Kafuta farm, officials said it has been fully developed and is mostly producing vegetables on a daily basis for the local market. In addition to this, according to its Area Manager, it also creates employment for about 500, most of who are from within the local communities in which they are operating.
At this farm, the president suggested that they increase their production capacity, recommending for them to also try Gallic production. The president was visibly impressed with the facilities at these farms and encouraged them to consolidate the current gains.
From the Kharafi farms in Kuloro and Kafuta respectively, the president and delegation also visited a reclaimed land in Bullock village, Foni Berefet District. He was very impressed with the women farmers at this site and appeared to be emotionally touched by their action. This prompted the president to join them in a tilling demonstration.