Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The promise of rice self-sufficiency is a cruel hoax

Local rice production in The Gambia, according to Oxfam America, has declined 79%.  Even with a corresponding increase in rice imports, the country experienced one of its worst food deficit, almost of feminine proportions, since the drought years in the 1970s to early 80s.

The agriculture sector is still in the recovery stages, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and many other donors.  There is not a single donor agency active in the Gambia that we are aware of that holds contrary views to those expressed by either of these two agencies.

FAO noted that since 2005, the sector has suffered from declining food production due not only to adverse weather condition but also "to a range of other constraints including weak levels of support."  This is a nice way of say the regime has not been doing much to provide extension services and necessary subsidies to farmers - same issues we've been harping about since the inception of our blog.

It is safe to say that the World Bank's projections of an agriculture sector recovery will be in line with its sister organization the IMF.  So, we have three leading international organizations plus an international NGO all agreeing on one thing - that the sector is digging itself out a food-deficit hole the regime dug as a result of inappropriate policies, and it will take concerted and sustained effort to full recovery.

For a regime that is as indiscipline and reckless as the one in Banjul, it will be a miracle to get it to focus on any set of policies for an entire year, much less in the medium-term.  It is a regime that jumps from one incoherent set of policies to another and from one sector to another, and the agriculture sector is no different.

Which brings us to the Vision 2016 self-sufficiency in rice which was unveiled to the surprise of many during Jammeh's current tour of the rural areas.  Equally caught unawares were many Gambians aboard including a Gambian activist and radio commentator who thought the announcer meant to say Vision 20/20 which is the regime's National Blueprint that was to launch The Gambia's entry into the middle income group of countries. Jammeh seemed to have abandoned his 15-year plan for a 24-month plan that promises rice self-sufficiency in two planting seasons.

The Vision 2016 must be placed within a larger context of the agriculture sector as a whole to appreciate the impracticality of the task Jammeh  and Momodou Sabally are presenting to farmers as achievable.  Because of the enormity of the task of achieving rice self-sufficiency, just like food sufficiency,  requires long-term planning because it is a long-term development goal which cannot be achieved in two planting seasons.

The FAO has also said to Government that to be self-sufficient in rice, the sector must undergo a
"transformation that will shift from subsistence to commercially-oriented sector."  But this would require a policy framework designed to address the sector's constraints.

What are these constraints facing agriculture?  According to FAO, they are "insufficient human and social capital development, limited capacity and inefficiency of extension services, weak research-farmer extension linkages, poor agricultural practices, declining soil fertility and soil erosion, low farmer productivity,  major challenges to natural resources due to steadily rising urban population, inefficient agricultural marketing systems, especially for groundnuts and food products, lack of access to long and short term financial capital, low agricultural investment, and inappropriate land tenure arrangements that do not give women full rights.

The Secretary General of the ruling party who doubles up as Head of the Civil Service announced the formation of what he called the Food Security Corporation (FSC).  But before the creation of this entity, the regime will establish a Vision 2016 Commission, and then a Committee of Ministers will also be set up, we guess to monitor the work of the V-2016 Commission which will presumably announce the formation of the FSC - to do what? buy and sell rice paddies? trade in other commodities?  You see why no serious person, and Gambian farmers are as serious as they come, should listen to these two.

The rationale for setting up a Vision 2016 Commission is murky at best especially if the ultimate goal is to prescribe "a way forward" because the dictator has already decided that the solution is the establishment of a Food Security Corporation to address not only the rice deficit but the food deficit as well.

The last thing that the Gambian economy needs is anything but a vacillating leadership that reacts daily to the economic news.  What is needed is what donors have been advocating, and farmers are yearning is a steady stewardship for the long haul.  These problems were not created overnight.  They took two decades to create.  They will, therefore, take more than two planting seasons to correct.  The sad fact is that both Jammeh and Sabally know that Vision 2016 is a campaign stunt in preparation for the next presidential elections to take Gambian minds off of a failed Vision 20/20.  The whole Vision 2016 is a sad and cruel hoax.