Sunday, December 6, 2015

Delay in marketing arrangements for the 2015/2016 groundnut season bad for the farmer and economy

A groundnut farmer
The decision of the Jammeh regime to stay silent on the marketing arrangements for this year's groundnut marketing season is not only worrying but downright callous behavior. Equally callous is its decision not to officially announce the 2014/2015 final tonnage purchased by the defunct Gambia Groundnut Corporation (GGC).

The same pattern of silence was displayed last year in declaring the regime's plan to purchase the crop from farmers who depend entirely on this single once-a-year economic activity for their livelihood.

The culture of silence and deception has become a hallmark of the Jammeh regime.  For example, we've come to learn only in May this year, and only through newspaper accounts, that GGC has been subsumed into a new agency that is called The National Food Security Processing and Marketing Corporation (NFSMC).  An Act creating the new entity is not accessible to us.  We hope it exists.

Given the opaque governance style of the regime, we can assume that it has abandoned its initial plan to create the Food Security Corporation (FSC) - a proposal we opposed, which would have been empowered to manage "all freed surplus land" presumably meaning virgin land as well as land lying fallow.  In the absence of a blueprint or public debate of this extremely important policy initiative, the citizenry can only speculate as to what was meant by the proposal.

In spite of the scanty information on the proposal outside of the imprecise announcement made by Jammeh's former Secretary General (Momodou Sabally) during a political tour of the provinces, we wrote two Open Letters to the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) a leading investor in the sector.  The first, laying our case for opposing the proposal we believe would have threatened the traditional tenure system that has served the country well for centuries and the second drawing IFAD's attention to Jammeh's unethical methods of acquiring land from rural communities. We will continue to monitor the situation to see whether the new corporation will be given similar mandate.

Back to this year's marketing arrangements - why are the farmers not being prepared for the season? Senegal is expected to produce one million tons and has guaranteed its farmers a producer price of CFA 200 per kg.  SONACOS, the government buying agency is expected to purchase a third i.e about 300,000 tons with the remaining 700,000 to be purchased by private buyers including Chinese buyers.  These announcements were made over a month ago and the marketing campaign in Senegal has already started while the Jammeh regime procrastinates.

What is incomprehensible is the lackadaisical approach adopted by the Jammeh regime in managing a sector that is the single biggest foreign exchange earner, at a time when the economy is already on life support and needs resuscitation.  What is likely to happen instead is the meager groundnut crop will find its way across the border where the market condition are more favorable to the Gambian farmers, including the payment of their crop in cash as opposed to the credit buying that is the standard practice of the bankrupt GGC now NFSMC.  This scenario will only exacerbate and already dire economic condition.

We hope the Minister of Finance will use the occasion of presenting his 2016 Budget to include in his speech the mandate of the new NFSMC, inform the farmers the producer price they should expect from their toil as well as the marketing arrangements for the upcoming season.  The regime owes the Gambian farmer, at least, that much.