Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Rice self-sufficiency not possible with Jammeh

Yaya Jammeh's promise to make Gambia self-sufficient in rice by 2016 is the umpteenth time he's made the same promise since 1994.

He made the promise during his current "Dialogue with the People Tour" which he has conveniently change to "Vision 2016 Rice Self-Sufficiency Tour".

It is tempting to discount the promise as politics as usual.  However, because basic food stuff, especially rice, is a matter of life and death, in a country that has seen a steady decline in production of all other food stuff : rice (-79%), groundnut (-67%) and early millet (-53%), to make such an outlandish promise is irresponsible and callous because it is unattainable.

The Gambia has been experiencing a serious crisis in agriculture.  Food crop production has been declining while food prices have been on the increase.  In fact, prices have been increasing higher than during the 2008 world food crisis. A bag of rice has gone up from D1,200 in the past couple of months to almost D2,000, and it is because of these price rises that have set the regime of Jammeh in a panic mode.  He is convinced that focusing his attention in the next two weeks of the tour on rice production, he will convince farmers that his government is going to solve the problem by 2016.

How can Gambia be self-sufficient in rice in two years when there has been a cumulative 79% decline in rice production in the past six years.  To make up for the deficit, rice imports grew.  And all indications are it will continue to grow because of inappropriate policies with inconsistent application.  Jammeh has interfered in all aspects of Gambian life and agriculture is no exception.  In the eyes of a senior official of the agriculture ministry " how can we register progress when the president keeps interfering with our work."  

Jammeh will massage the figures, bend the truth to mislead the rural population. He's so detached from reality that he fails to realize that every policy pronouncements, including his stories and anecdotes, have been the same since 1994. Nothing has changed in his stories and comportment, except his attire which has morphed from army uniform to multi-color traditional dress to his signature flowing white boubou.

To recommend that Gambians change their dietary habits by eating what they grow makes no sense to a country that has been grappling with food deficits for over three decades makes little sense.  There is already hunger, not only in rural Gambia but in urban Gambia as well.  Jammeh should, therefore, be making those tractors available to farmers on a rental basis, provide agricultural extension and provide improved seeds and adequate fertilizers, and then step aside and allow experts to do their work without interference in an area you have no expertise.  You are in the way, Yaya.