By Fatou Sanyang
Activista The Gambia in collaboration with ActionAid LRP9 office and Rural Women Assembly kick-started a five-day Land Rights Caravan Campaign on Monday 29th August 2022 to engage women and smallholder farmers on access, ownership and control over land.
The aim of the project is to collect petitions from farmers and later endorsements from the local authorities (Alkalo, Chief and Governor) for validation to be submitted to the National Assembly Select Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development to increase the budget allocated for agriculture.
Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing is a vital sector of the Gambian Economy. According to the World Bank, the three combined contributed 19.7% of the overall GDP in 2021. However, challenges faced by farmers had worsened over the years, especially when prices of fertilisers increased by over 100%, from D750 last year to D2,500 in 2022 coming own to D2,000 after government intervention.
The Plight of women in Toubakolong
Coumba Sanyang a female Community Leader from Toubakolong told Gainako that women from her community make a living from cultivating “Nana” a local Mint used in drink, which she says is no longer profitable.
“We the women only depend on Tea cultivation, that’s where we eat from and pay fees for our children, when you buy a bucket of Nana for D100 you will pay D25 to reach the market. After selling it you will be left with nothing”.
Fatou Manneh another woman from Toubakolong says that women have suffered a lot in farming.
“We will work in our gardens till late hours, only for animals to invade our farms and eat from our harvest which is very painful and a great loss for us”.
Fatou revealed that most of the women from her community are predominantly rice cultivators according to her, their rice field gets invaded by salt water which destroys their rice field.
“We women farmers are suffering, we cultivate rice to feed our families but, when we cultivate rice on these big hectares of land the saltwater usually enters our farmland which destroys our plantation. This barrier here has been built since during Jawara’s regime it’s old now” and needs replacement.
The Plight of Farmers in Fass Omar Saho
Speaking to a seasoned farmer, named Omar Saho from the aptly named Fass Omar Saho, he told our reporter that Fass has a very fertile land to cultivate rice.
“Fass Omar Saho is one of the best places to grow rice, our land is very fertile but we face a lot of challenges. Our main challenge is the high cost of fertilisers, 2,000 is very expensive for a bag of fertiliser it is better to buy a bag of rice than to buy fertilisers with that amount” said seasoned Farmer Omar Saho.
The Plight of Women in Ba Fuloto
The people of Ba Fuloto are Predominantly fishermen, they fish on a daily basis for their income.
According to Ousman Mbye from Ba Fuloto says that before 100 boats used to fish but now they only have 5 boats going to sea.
“Before we used to have 100 boats going to sea to fish but now we only have 5 boats working, most of our Fishermen have gone through the back way because there are no opportunities in The Gambia and the government is not providing job opportunities for us, that’s why our youths continue to risk their lives and go through the back way” Mbye concludes.
More Investment in Agriculture Needed
Most farmers our reporter spoke to disclosed that they have problems accessing clean water, fencing, markets and poor road networks. They called for the government to intervene and remedy the situation because according to them, North Bank Region has been neglected for far too long.
The villages visited during the 4 days include; Toubakolong, Nuimi Lamin, Sami Kuta, Pakau Nyongo, Fass Omar Saho, Sarreh Mari Dobo, Ba Fuloto, Chilli, Malick Nana.
Upper Niumi consists of around 50 villages, according to many, Upper Niumi can feed the entire nation if the government invest sufficiently in the Agriculture sector in line with the Maputo/Malabo Protocol to allocate at least 10% of the National Budget to Agriculture.
After visiting the farmers in Upper Nuimi the Chief and Governor of the North Bank Region were also engaged in a conversation. They both elaborated that North Bank Region is rich and blessed with vast and fertile land. They pledged their commitment to join the campaign to address the concerns raised by supporting the petition to be sent to the National Assembly’s Select Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development.
Over D6 Million Removed from the Ministry of Agriculture Budget
Last year the National Assembly approved D392,793,107 for the Ministry of Agriculture out of D23,692,226,645 which translates to less than 2% of the total budget for 2022. However, in early August 2022, at least D6,961,444 was deducted from the Ministry of Agriculture bringing their total allocation down to D385,841,663 which is also less than 2% of the overall budget.
According to Finance Minister Hon Seedy Keita’s speech when tabling the revised budget, “the war on Ukraine has dramatically shifted the outlook to the downside, with overall economic growth revised to 3.8 per cent – induced by heightened inflationary pressures, increased food commodity prices, agricultural inputs, fertilizers prices, and energy prices”.
“As a result, in 2022, the agricultural sector is estimated to only grow marginally to 4.8 per cent from 4.7 per cent in 2021,” added the Finance Minister.