The World Food Programme Representative in The Gambia has observed that it will be difficult for The Gambia to attain food-sufficiency under the country’s current state of food production, which is based on rain-fed agriculture.
Gambian farmers heavily rely on rainfall for crop production and the pattern of rain is now becoming more and more erratic due to the climate change phenomenon.
Speaking to this reporter at his office at the UN House in Cape Point, Bakau, Malcolm Duthie said that for the country to be able to feed itself “we have to move from rain-fed agriculture to irrigated agriculture so that we can have all-year-round crop production”.
The country can feed herself sooner than later when this method of food production is operationalised, the acting-UN Resident Coordinator said.
The development of irrigation would provide the basis to develop a productive, sustainable and diversified agriculture, to achieve the desired food self-sufficiency and the development of a rice-based export-oriented agriculture, and to increase the foreign exchange earning capacity of the country.
To put the rice situation in The Gambia in its proper perspective, there is a need to appreciate that available data which indicate that there is sufficient land to expand production to the level required for the attainment of self-sufficiency.
However, because of the predominantly subsistence rain-fed production system, increased rice production and productivity has been severely constrained by the vagaries of the climate.
Rain-fed agriculture is more and more risky now because of the consistent late onset of the rains, sometimes a decline in rainfall in the middle of the season, an early end to the season or end-of-season drought, increased variability in annual rainfall, and increased frequency of intensive rainfall and runoff, resulting in severe floods.
The Gambia imports most of her food requirements, particularly grains, and produces not more than 20% of its rice requirement, which makes it very vulnerable to rise in prices and reduction in supplies from the international market as the country depends heavily on importation.
“There is a need to improve the country’s agricultural production,” the WFP Country Representative said, adding that the country should promote more non-rainfall agriculture, because one of the problems in the past years has been reliance on the weather and farmers can’t do much because the weather does not corroborate some times.
He says non-rainfall agriculture means boosting irrigation, better management of agriculture and other appropriate mechanisms.
“Though the government has laid down plans to improve agriculture, unfortunately its ability to act on it fast is restricted due to resource constraints as well as getting the right technical people to do the work,” Mr Duthie said.
The farmers and more especially the private sector should be motivated to take large scale commercial farming and invest in irrigation, he advises, saying there is a need for the private sector to invest in agriculture because “the government cannot do it all”.
He said further: “People should start concentrating on dry season agriculture as the season approaches because if we rely on rainfall agriculture we will never go anywhere. So there should be more concentration on growing food crops during the dry season and this is possible when we promote irrigated farming.
“There is a very good market now for exporting food. With the prices of crops getting higher, the farmers should not only produce enough to feed The Gambia but should also produce surplus for export. Farmers need to be encouraged and to be given incentives to produce surplus of good quality produce for a ready market for export.”
Oxfam, an international non-governmental organisation working to fighting poverty and injustice, has warned that by 2030, the average cost of key crops could increase by between 120% and 180%.
During the period of soaring global food prices in 2008 and the subsequent following period of global financial crisis, The Gambia was regarded as one of the 30 most vulnerable countries to these events due to the fact that 60% of the country’s needs were imported. Its high dependency on import of staple food supplies, its population’s significant dependency on remittances and the income from tourism made the country and the households especially vulnerable.
Although the amount of crop harvested this year has surpassed that of last year, this does not mean it’s enough to feed the country, WFP’s Duthie said, adding that the increment may be as a result of increase in land mass under cultivation but not increase in yield.
“The increase in the land under cultivation may be due to the back-to-the-land call of the President, which shows that there is support for improvement on the country’s agriculture from the highest level in the country,” he noted.
Agricultural development is a broad subject; it calls for substantive boost in a lot of areas ranging from improving information on prices to the farmers, to improving ability of the farmers, producing surplus, having enough and easy access to the market, and creating avenues for farmers to have credit in advance so that they can invest in large scale and buy fertilizers and better farming implements to produce surplus.
WFP has just completed a survey in The Gambia in which it is found out that approximately 11% of the total population of the country is food insecure or vulnerable to food insecurity, Mr Duthie said.
A significantly higher proportion of food insecure or vulnerable population, well above the national average level, was found in areas that are predominantly urban.
Areas with high poverty levels are more likely to have a higher proportion of food insecure and/or vulnerable households, the WFP rep says.
However, the survey was conducted during the period of the year when food is generally more available and there are less access constraints at household level, which means the number of food insecure households may increase as the lean season approaches.