The president of the Republic has urged Africa to accelerate more efforts towards improving the agriculture sector, and stated that the best strategy for the attainment of food self-sufficiency, which is wholly supported by the African Union, is for the continent to harness our human resources.
His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Jammeh was speaking to reporters in an interview early Saturday morning at the Banjul International Airport upon his arrival from Sipopo, Equatorial Guinea where he joined counterparts for the 23rd Ordinary Session of the AU heads of state and government from the 23rd of June to 27th, on the theme "Transforming Africa's agriculture for shared prosperity and improved livelihoods; harnessing opportunities for inclusive growth and sustainable development.
Taking questions from reporters, The Gambian leader stated: "The best possible strategies needed for achieving that ultimate objective of food self-sufficiency is to harness our human resources, because you cannot have the agriculture without the human resources".
Jammeh expressed confidence that The Gambia can achieve all the objectives [of the food self-sufficiency] by the grace of the Almighty Allah, but only if all Gambians are determined to work hard and grow what they eat and eat what they grow.
Asked as to what extent he had shared with his colleagues his Vision 2016 initiative, the president remarked: This was something I have been advocating for the past 19 years. You would remember since we came to power, we said "national pride, self-reliance, going back to the land" and some people said oh these people cannot create jobs for the young people and now they want to turn everybody into a farmer. But from the lessons of the past food crises, they serve as a wakeup call for everybody. Who would have believed that a bag of rice in The Gambia would cost more than one thousand dalasi? So you will realise that the more we depend on imports, the more expensive it becomes, especially food items. You would realise that in Africa today, we spend a lot of money annually to import rice, when some parts of the continent experience nine months of rainfall. We have so many health problems today because we are eating foods that we don't even know their source and I think the whole of the African continent has now realised this".
The president used his airport interview to reaffirm his call for the diversification of agricultural production in the country, making it clearer that his Vision 2016 Agenda is not just limited to rice cultivation, but also cereals and other food crops like beans, cassava, and potato, amongst others. "We should at least balance our diet by eating most of the cereals that we grow in this country. So we will achieve it and I am very happy that everybody is talking about something that I have been saying over the years. There is a saying that "necessity is the mother of invention", so I think everybody has seen the need for food self-sufficiency in Africa. One cannot even worship Allah when one is hungry. So food is very important because if you cannot feed yourself the worship of Allah becomes very difficult," he said.
On his message to the people, as Muslims began the Holy Month of Ramadan on Sunday, the president hastened to urge all to fast, ask for forgiveness for their sins, be honest, and pray to the Almighty Allah for those evil sinners to become patriotic and good citizens of this country. "We should not play with our religion because out 365 days you are told to fast for may be 29 days, 30 days at most and out of 24hrs you are asked to pray only five times and if this takes you long, it would not even last more than 10 minutes. So we should change our attitude," concluded. At the summit
Addressing the opening session of the 28th Ordinary Session of the Permanent Representatives' Committee (COREP) meeting held on the margins of the main summit, the AU Commission chair, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma used the opportunity to urge all the delegates to support the initiatives aimed at improving agricultural production and food security, the two main themes of this meeting.
"We must consider specific actions among all countries and regions of the continent to stimulate the agricultural business chains of value, identifying these with specific measures," Zuma said. "This requires the renewal of efforts in irrigation; seed development; access by women to land, markets and farms; infrastructures and improved trade within and outside the continent." The chairperson also recalled the importance of improving the investment by African countries in education, skills, science and technology, in order to achieve development and build modern infrastructure, and pointed out that governments that have advanced the most are those that invest heavily in these areas.
Call for support to the initiative
Also at the summit, African citizens join the continent's top musicians, hundreds of CSOs, and ONE.org to ask leaders to invest more in agriculture, calling on them to recommit to spending at least 10% of national budgets on effective agriculture investments. This call has gathered more than two million signatures of support from African citizens across the continent.
Agenda 2063, a comprehensive blueprint for Africa's development for the next 50 years, was also presented to the continent's leaders for adoption.