|Prof. Wale Adekunle|
To make such a claim does not only put his professional reputation on the line but sets him on a collision course with the temperamentally insane and highly unpredictable Yaya Jammeh who has been known to expel foreign diplomats for simply carrying out their normal diplomatic functions or simply disagreeing with him about the science of HIV/AIDS. One wonders what will happen to the professor if, come 2016, rice exports continue its current upward trajectory, as expected.
Time, rice import numbers and food deficiency figures are all working against the good professor. In the professor's own words, Gambia imports $50 million worth of rice annually which he expects to reverse in two rainy season, as special adviser. In all fairness to him, he has said to achieve the fete they regime will have to try to plant rice three times a year starting in January. The only way this can be achieved is to have the rice sector firing on all cylinders, upland, tidal and irrigated rice.
Gambian rice agronomists have known and written about this for a long time. But all have limitations of their own which must be taken into account to arrive at a realistic approach, free of political propaganda directed at an unsuspecting citizenry.
As recently as last year, a Gambian agronomist and former head of the Ministry of Agriculture and a colleague made the same presentation at an international gathering where he strongly advocated for a nation-wide use of pump irrigation as a means of reducing poverty and food insecurity.
They further argued that in the short run, the rehabilitation of the abandoned irrigation schemes is the most efficient way to expand pump irrigation rice cropped area. In the medium term, an extension of the irrigated cropped area nationwide is being recommended by Gambian experts.
Gambia's agriculture is predominantly rain-fed and the rainy seasons are short and highly unpredictable. With the advent of global warming, it will be a dicey proposition to rely exclusively on the rains. Thus the need to invest in agriculture under irrigation system where rice productivity is 5 times higher than rain-fed rice which makes a strong argument for investment in irrigation infrastructure.
The sudden reversal of the regime's agriculture policy which has evolved from the Vision 20/20 of 1995 to Vision 2016 of last year has turned many Gambians into skeptics, and are seeing the latest antics of the Jammeh regime as just another scheme designed to play politics with Gambian lives.
To achieve rice self-sufficiency by 2016, it would mean Gambia will stop being a rice importer in one year which many reasonable people find difficult to imagine, much less accept as a fact-based outcome. Time, as the saying goes, will tell. Until then, Professor Wale Adekunle, we are told, has signed on a 2-year contract, presumably with the Gambian dictator, the details of which are unclear at this stage.