Friday, August 22, 2014

Proposed Food Security Corporation is a bad idea

Gambian women in their rice fields in Kaur
Dr. Nwenze, IFAD President
The Gambia is the smallest country in Africa with a total arable land of about 558,000 ha of which 320,000 ha or 57% of that is cropped annually.  The country's economy is agriculture based with the sector contributing approximately 30%  of GDP in 2009 and employing over 70% of Gambians.

With these figures steering Yaya Jammeh straight in the eye, and in spite of his regime's mantra of 'eat what you grow and grow what you eat', he has been investing less than 3% of the budget on the sector since he seized power.  As a signatory to the Maputo Declaration that recommends African countries commit 10% of their budget to agriculture, Jammeh has woefully failed in his commitment to the sector.  Admittedly, the trend has improved from 2.75 to 8% but not before he was literally shamed by the dismal numbers such as spending less on agricultural R&D than any other country in Africa.

Gambia is one of the least food secure countries in Africa, in part because of the lack of coherent and consistent policy measures, a problem cited by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) President during Day 1 or a two-day visit to Banjul.  The IFAD President also expressed a degree of angst, predicated by a plea to ensure "that project implementation frameworks are respected in order to ensure that partnerships, particularly in decision making, is highly participatory."

By Day 2, The IFAD President's tone changed to sound like someone cuddling a dictator who stands to threaten the rural economic policy infrastructure through his proposed Food Security Corporation (FSC), using the IFAD-funded $65 million NEMA Project.  As we have said in an early post, and outlined in our open letter to the IFAD President, no national honors and medals conferred on Jammeh's guest can conceal the fact that transferring "all excess agricultural land" to the FSC, as announced by Jammeh is a very bad idea.

To put it bluntly, it is a dangerous idea and should be opposed at every turn.  And to hear the IFAD President say that while attaining self-sufficiency in rice in 18 months is ambitious but achievable is disappointing coming from the head of one of the most respected UN Agencies.  The idea is not a serious one and thus should not have been dignified with an endorsement from IFAD.

It should, therefore, be opposed by all those who continue to have trust in the rural economy, sustained in no small measure, by the hard-working rural women of The Gambia, and men too  The traditional land system which has served the rural population well, is the cornerstone of the rural economy that is being threatened by an inept and corrupt regime.

No excess agricultural land should be deeded to a Corporation thus denying villagers access.  Any fundamental structural change to the traditional tenure system will inevitable reverberate throughout the rural economy, threatening livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of rural women, men and children. IFAD should not be seen to be condoning such an irresponsible policy by an equally irresponsible and idiosyncratic dictator.

As we write, there are 10 highly trained agriculturalists in jail.  They have been arrested and in custody on flimsy charges.  In July, 17 rural women, all from one village, were arrested in their rice farms and charged for planting beyond what the perimeters demarcated by the  local District Tribunal.

The Project Director of NEMA, Momodou Gassama, was dismissed from his job in June only to be quietly reinstated a fortnight ago, in time for Dr. Nwenze's visit.  As soon as he departs, Yaya Jammeh will continue to meddle, not only in project implementation but in what the IFAD President referred to as the "decision making" process.