By Oumie Mendy and Yusef Taylor
The Minister of Agriculture has reiterated the need for Gambians to attach utmost importance to agriculture if the country was to achieve its first goal of halving hunger and poverty as farmers demand a significant increase in groundnut price.
However, the 2023 Draft Budget tabled by the Finance Minister in Parliament yesterday, denotes that the Government has allocated only 1.28% of the 2023 Budget Appropriation for Government Local Funds to Agriculture. Meanwhile, 3% of the 2023 Draft Budget has been allocated to the Office of the President and 19.56% has been allocated to National Debt Service out of a total Appropriation of D22 Billion.
Addressing an annual Gambia Groundnut Corporation (GGC) Stakeholders consultation on the 2022-2023 groundnut season in Jenoi, Minister Demba Sabally said agriculture is the bedrock of the country’s economy and the population should commit to sustaining it.
“The National Development Plan (NDP) sets specific targets for agriculture, which is to boost production and productivity, as well as to eradicate poverty. It is only agriculture that can do that in this country,” he said.
He stated that Agriculture is a critical pillar in the country’s drive for food security, hence, by extension the socio-economic development of the country.
“It is thus imperative for me and the Gambian farmer, to come to a round table and discuss a roadmap on the way forward for the nation’s agricultural sector,” he added.
Minister Sabally said the Barrow administration is committed to attaining these set targets by working closely with the Gambian farmers.
“The recent global crisis has raised the bar for the importers of agriculture in any country and this will improve socio-economic development. I would therefore urge farmers and all the stakeholders to use agriculture as a driver for change because it is the only change that is sustainable,” he stated.
He challenged the nation to use agriculture to grow the country’s economy and create jobs for the youth folks of the country.
“We must not be comfortable to remain as small-scale farmers. We should dream big and aspire to achieve those dreams. As a nation, we must produce bigger and better products by adapting to smart technology. We must be mechanized,” he said.
While the minister expressed confidence that the stakeholder’s consultation forum will create the opportunity for them to hear from the farmers especially on the challenges faced, the groundnut farmers demanded for the government to increase its purchase price of groundnut to D80 per kilogram to help them recover from the excesses spending on fertiliser.
In comparison to 2021, it was noted that the Government bought groundnuts for D24 per Kilogram and D24,000 per tonne.
Farmers in attendance said they need a significant improvement for their returns or else they will run into serious losses due to the high price of fertilizer.
Mr Jim, the President of the Farmers Association noted that their groundnut was affected last year because it stayed long in the sun. He added that drivers are paid D500 to transport a ton and spend about 15 days at the depot and the farmers are responsible for their feeding which is not favourable.
The GGC has assured them that they will discuss the demand with the Minister of Agriculture who will take the matter to the President and conduct further evaluation of the price of groundnuts.
The Managing Director of GGC Mr Njie also assured farmers that there will be enough money this year to buy groundnuts from them.
Government Investment in Agricultural Inputs, Equipment and Machinery
Our research has shown that the Gambia Government’s investment in Agricultural Inputs, Equipment and Machinery continues to decline every year. According to the 2023 Draft Budget estimate, the Expenditure Budget Overview by Item denotes Government Recurrent and Development Budget for Government Local Funds. This section of the 2023 Draft Budget does not include donor funds and denotes that the Government actually invested D12.7 million into Agricultural Inputs in 2021 which declined to an Approved allocation of D5.2 million in 2022, with the 2023 Draft Budget investing only D4 million into the same Budget Line.
Shifting our attention to Agricultural Equipment and Machinery our research has shown that the Government actually invested over D3.8 million into this Budget Line in 2021, declining sharply down to an approved figure of D500,000 in 2022. The 2023 Draft Budget indicates that the Government plans to invest zero dalasis in Agricultural Equipment and Machinery in 2023.