Sunday, May 10, 2015

GAMBIA: Second Open Letter to H.E. Kanayo Nwanze, President of IFAD

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

Dear President Nwanze,

This is our second letter drawing your attention, once more, to the sensitive issue of agricultural land use in The Gambia which requires urgent attention of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Our first letter, specifically cited the then proposed Food Security Corporation (SFC) that the Government of The Gambia intended to create  with the intention of vesting all "freed surplus land" to the new public enterprise entity.

As far as it can be determined, the SFC has not been established but the president of The Gambia has already proceeded by asking (more like demanding) local farming communities to "gift", what is traditional;y-/communally-held land, to a privately held company called Kanilai Family Farms (KFF).  Again, as far as it can be determined, the KFF is owned by the Gambian president and managed by members of his family.

The president is currently in the middle of a 16-day tour of the provinces and he has visited numerous villages already in the National Agricultural Land and Water Management Development Project (NEMA) area - a project that is IFAD-financed.   A week into the tour, the Gambian leader has intimidated villagers into "gifting" his privately-held company over 10,000 ha in a country that has an estimated 558,000 ha of arable land, which 57% is under cultivation,

A back-of-the-envelop calculation shows that the Gambia leader has managed to extract, through sheer intimidation, 2% of Gambia's arable land.  It is our considered opinion, based on experience, that this is just the beginning of more demands and intimidation to come from the State security forces against the farming communities across Gambia.

Apart from the legal and ethical issues involved in this highly coercive method of acquiring limited agricultural land, the potential impact that this will have on the traditional tenure system threatens the very economic, social and cultural cohesion of the country.  Therefore, every effort must be made to stop this land grab.

We will also be appealing to the political parties and civic society groups - if there are any left in the country - to voice out their opposition.  The Gambian farmers, all of whom are engaged in subsistence farming, must be protected from being forced to surrender communally-held land that belongs to present and future generations of village dwellers.

We appeal to IFAD and all those concerned about the economic and social well-being of Africa's smallest country to intervene in what amounts to land grabbing by a single individual who must be stopped.

We hope our appeal will be given the due consideration it deserves.

Yours sincerely,

Sidi Sanneh
Former Executive Director, AfDB
Former Foreign Minister and former Ambassador of The Gambia to Senegal