The secretary general of the association said the growth of the business of food and juice processing in The Gambia is at a standstill because “there are too much bottlenecks in carrying out their trade, key among them is the refusal by supermarkets and most hotels in the country to sell Gambian-made foodstuffs.
|Isaac Thomas, Food Processors SG|
In an interview with Gambia News Online, Isaac Thomas, Chief Executive Officer of Gamjuice, a local juice processing firm, said most of the supermarkets refuse to trade in foodstuffs locally produced.
Most of them (supermarkets) do not even have a space to sell Gambian foodstuffs because there is usually no special shelf for Gambian products, he said.
A common reason given by the supermarkets for refusing to sell homemade products is that they don’t have ready-made cash to buy the products, Mr Thomas said.
Even when food processors are willing to supply hotels and supermarkets on credit they still “refuse” to patronise local businesses, he added.
“There should be Gambian shelf at all the supermarkets, so that if any tourists or other travellers come to the country, they would see our own local juices and foods to buy,” Mr Thomas reasoned.
“Most times foreigners or tourists in The Gambia do not buy our locally made products or foodstuffs because they hardly see them in supermarkets, since out of sight is out of mind,” the Gamjuice manufacturer said. “You cannot buy something that you don’t see. But if they come to the supermarkets and see Gambian-made products on the shelves then they would begin to appreciate and buy them.”
Efforts to get comments from some supermarket owners have so far proved futile but our reporter says most of the supermarkets he visited to seek opinion from their owners did not have a special shelf dedicated to selling products made in The Gambia. The reporter observed that the only Gambian product available at some of the supermarkets is cake. Only few of the supermarkets have some Gambian juices which are even packed in tight corners and often times in small fridges, he says, adding that locally made products like juices are only made available on request unlike other juices which are widely displayed on shelves.
“The supermarkets are not taking our Gambian products for sale,” Mr Thomas reiterated. “The reason is because they want to kill us. Most of these supermarkets are owned by foreigners; the Indians and the Lebanese and these people want to kill the local markets. This is the bottom line.
“They want to kill our farmers because we the processors buy the raw materials from the farmers. If they killed us then they killed the farmers because if the farmers are producing without any market for their products they will stop farming.”
He said further: “I personally use to buy D5,000 to D10,000 worth of palm wine in a go. Most of the farmers have not been getting such amount of sales, and I am only doing that to process and sell, but if I process and have no market for it, then I will stop buying it. And when the tappers have nowhere to sell their wine then they will stop tapping and this will increase the poverty in the country.”
The Gamjuice CEO also calls on the Gambia Tourism Authority to help by advising hotel operators in the country to also be buying and selling products made in The Gambia in hotels. “Most of the hotels are selling only foreign drinks and not products made in the country,” he argued, saying: “The tourists come here for local drinks and foods; they are not here for fish and chips or the so-called carbonated drinks; they want our own drinks.”
He continued: “The GTA should support Gambian processors and farmers, by encouraging hotels to buy locally made juices, since they are standard and hygienic enough to be taken to the hotels or anywhere.”
Mr Thomas says he conducts regular food safety test at recognised health units in the country such as the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) and leading laboratories in the country like Jabot Laboratory.
Call for Protectionism
Considering the aforementioned predicament or situation of local companies and their products, it is increasingly becoming vital for locally made foodstuffs to be protected from the negative impacts created by imported foodstuffs on their sale. Food processors in the country are therefore calling for some form of protectionism to increase the sale of locally made foodstuffs and the growth of local manufacturing companies.
“We want protection from the authorities, particularly the Ministry of Trade Regional Integration and Employment; we expect them to say something because the processors are dying,” Mr Thomas said, adding: “We are also calling on the Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Ministry of Trade and the Gambia Tourism Authority to come to our aid in order for hotels and supermarkets to practise the habit of selling our products.”