Monday, October 3

Agriculture and food processing Part 2

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<![CDATA[Bureaucracy, monopoly of roles, duplications of agriculture activities and white elephant projects (just to mention a few) have caused agricultural projects of the 2nd Republic to fail.
One Gambia concept:  #New Gambia, New government vision, new policies in agriculture, equals to employment plus development
Agricultural development review
I totally support our Honourable Minister of Agriculture, Mr OJ Jallow and wish him success in all his endeavors, but we voted for change and we want a complete change. We like to share our experience with him, so that he will learn what has been going on with the Agriculture department for the past 22 years. The new Minister has said it all in his interview that, “The 2nd Republic, Agriculture output is ZERO”. And I totally support and agreed with him.
I will also want to extent my warmest welcome to Honorable James Gomez, who is the Minister of fisheries. These two ministries are very important to our economy as they are all parts of the Agriculture process.
Secondly, the  Agriculture department  is the  ministry in the government that has the highest donor funds or funding in The Gambia, as millions  of dollars have been invested in the agricultural sector, yet Gambians have not yet benefitted, some have not even seen these projects.
We are in the month of March, What is happening to the groundnut buying and milling season?
My concepts if supported by the new able Ministers of Agriculture and Fisheries, these Millions of dollars invested in The Gambia, can create hundreds of companies, thousands of employment, millions of foreign exchange (export) and billions of dalasi (GDP) and eventually create development.
I take this opportunity to congratulate the President of The Republic of The Gambia, His Excellency Adama Barrow, The coalition government members and The Gambian people, on our 52 years anniversary. May God bless The Gambia.
In my observation, the independence celebration was fully grace by thousands of youths and most of these youths have no job. It’s the duty of this new government to play their role in giving them job opportunities and the agriculture and fishing departments should participate fully.
I write to discuss the ways forward for a better Gambia, because I am the secretary of the National Food Processor and I have attended thousands of agriculture workshops over the past 20 years. Therefore I am able to tell the honorable ministers the defects of agriculture policies, vision and functions that have caused the poor performance of this very important department of The Gambia.
This page can also be advisory channel to the new ministers to enable them take immediate action to reverse the negative path in agriculture system in the interest of all Gambia.
Agriculture includes agriculture activities on the land, the sea and the air and it includes the storing or preservation of agriculture output for a duration, which is called food processing, these two sectors go together, and if one fails the other will fail. Please agriculture officials don’t disagree with that!
I have conducted some interviews, and will like to share few of them.
One of the questions I asked several Gambians is: have you ever seen an agricultural project? The answer is NO. The other question:  have you seen a farm produce from an Agricultural farm in supermarkets? The answer is NO.  And yet we see several Agriculture projects and expensive agriculture project vehicles all over the country?  The conclusion is that, we have million dollar projects, but most of them are not visible and successful, and that has to be stopped immediately as these funds are meant for farmers, food processors and to create employment. Period.
Concerning the bureaucracy, monopoly of roles and duplication of the agriculture department, mostly all activities in the agriculture ministry are done in-house ( from the specifications, tendering, planning, consultancy, conduct interviews,  approvals, committees approvals, advance payments, final payments, advices, validation, workshops, trade fairs, farm products, and many more). These are done within the agricultural system or projects committee members. This does not create transparency in the agricultural system.  An example is with the MATCHING GRANT FUNDS, which millions of dollars are given to the Gambian people for Agricultural business and nobody has realized their output. I will deliberate on this topic in my next paper.
Committees are also a problem. Most committees in agriculture projects are from the agriculture department staff, there might not be any member from the farmers and food processors, whiles the funds are for the farmers and food processors. This does not create transparency. However, there are lots of problems with the Matching Grants and it does not benefit the farmers and the food processors.
Another area to stop is the duplication of agriculture workshop and seminars. To be sincere, I sometimes wonder, how comes there are so many workshops on the same issues, over and over again, where do these organizations  have these funds to hire expensive hotels, pay all the participants conference allowance and full  5-star breakfast and lunch? These monies could have been spent on practical farming activities.  For example, packaging workshop will be conducted by agriculture officials, another with trade officials, another with GIEPA, another with GCCI and so on. This is a gross duplication of resources, time and effort. The amounts spent on these workshops could have created small projects or assisted farmers and processors. This needs to be stopped!
I have also observed that there are no records of farmers and producers in the Agriculture Department, it is very important to keep records of your important farmers and food processors, for easy flow of information and feedback from stakeholders. I say this because most of the times workshops conducted by the agriculture sector don’t invite the right people, they will invite more technocrats and few farmers / food processors and in most cases, actual food processor like Gamjuice (that has its own factory and the secretary of The Gambia National Food Processors) is not even invited. Why?
Some advice on the development of agriculture and creation of employment
1.    Stop all ongoing projects and let officials send detail payment of the projects as at date.
2.    Create a New Gambia agricultural projects planning office directly under the management of the office of the president of the Republic of The Gambia or directly under the Agriculture Minister’s management, whiles re-structuring the projects committee functions and activities.
3.    Create an Agricultural committee comprising farmers and food processors and few technocrats to review best practices and projects for Gambians, especially for the youths, which the past agricultural ministry failed to do, as most projects are created without consulting the beneficiaries.
We are working for the good of The Gambia and all of us have a role to play to make Gambia a better place so that Agriculture, Fisheries and food processing can do better. May God Bless The Gambia.
Isaac Thomas is the GEO of Gamjuice, the first fruit juice processing company in The Gambia. He is also the secretary of the Gambia National Food Processors.
By Isaac Thomas]]>

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