Saturday, May 3, 2014

An open letter to IFAD President, Kanayo Nwanze

H.E. Kanayo Nwanze
President, International Fund for Agricultural Development
Via Paolo di Dono, 44
00142 Rome

Dear President Nwanze,

Subject :  GAMBIA : NEMA Project and the proposed Food Security Corporation

We write to flag our concern about a proposal by The Gambian leader, His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh to establish a Food Security Corporation (FSC), an idea that appears to be still in the works, so to speak, and thus evolving.

The announcement that is causing consternation in the Gambian farming community came as a complete surprise to farmers attending a political gatherings during Jammeh's 21-day tour of the rural areas to sell the idea.

What is the FSC?  Information is scanty but what Gambians have been told by Jammeh and his Secretary General of his ruling party, Momodou Sabally, is that a "comprehensive review" of Gambia's traditional tenure system will be undertaken with a view to, and we quote "freeing surplus land for agricultural production."

Will the "freed surplus land" be deeded to or owned by FSC?  What does the shareholder structure looks like?  We believe the Government of The Gambia needs to step back and study this issue carefully with IFAD, EU and other donors involved. The EU design experts that have collaborated with your organization in the design of NEMA should be involved in this review exercise as well.

The legal implications of a botched experimentation with our traditional tenure system, especially when foreign entities are involved, will be unimaginable.  The social and cultural implications will be even far more disruptive threatening the very social and cultural cohesion that has held rural farming communities together for centuries. At the risk of being seen as engaging in hyperbole, we say Jammeh's proposition is dangerous.

We are, therefore, suggesting to your esteemed organization known for its efficient management, excellent project designs and effective M&E system, study Gambia's proposal within the context of the Gambia's National Agricultural Land and Water Management Development Project, referred to as NEMA, and funded by IFAD.

NEMA is one of the single-biggest project in The Gambia, at a total estimated cost of about US$65 million, designed for "poor smallholders, predominant women engaged in vegetable and rice production."

As we understand it, the commercialization component of the project provides strategic support, and it also complements the first component with investments in "private economic assets of producer organizations and entrepreneurs" which makes it all the more important for IFAD to investigate whether a Food Security Corporation, as outlined by the Gambian leader, will adversely affect NEMA in such a manner that it will require re-assessment or a re-appraisal of the project.

We look forward to your early reaction to our suggestions.

Sincerely yours

Sidi Sanneh
Former Executive Director, AfDB
on behalf of a group of Gambian farmers