At a time when coronavirus dominates the headlines and government’s attention more than anything else, farming communities have taken a pause to redirect the thinking of the authorities towards the provision of subsidies and incentives in order to get better yields to support the life after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Farmers believed that all focus must not only be centered on fighting the virus while forgetting the country’s main economic activity on which the majority of citizens rely for survival.
Calls have been made for more subsidies from the government, a key driver for farmers in The Gambia which is synonymous to the agricultural strategy of the Gambia’s first president Sir Dawda Kairba Jawara. During his more than two decades administration, farmers consistently received agricultural inputs through subsidy which encouraged the majority of the poor into farming thereby reducing hunger. This is what the farmers are now calling for from President Adama Barrow.
“What Baba Jawara [ex-president Jawara] did is what President Barrow should do. Jawara brought donkey carts here, he brought tilling and ploughing machines for farmers, and he provided food for farmers during the rainy season and also gave soft loans to farmers. These materials and incentives encouraged many Gambians to venture into farming during his administration,” said Bully Bah, a resident of Kaur Janneh Kunda, in Lower Saloum District of The Gambia.
He believes that if farming is to regain old glory in the country, the government must be ready to learn from the first republic’s agricultural development strategies.
Bully Saidy, a 54-year-old farmer has been labouring for the past four decades. He told The Chronicle that farming needs to revisit agricultural strategies, arguing that President Adama Barrow’s administration should emulate the gains registered by Jawara.
According to him, farming is the surest way of liberating the country from the external influence as well as the country’s continuous dependence on foreign aid. He argued that though the country was not rich in minerals at the time of independence, it was through farming the country was able to stand as an Independent nation.
“To me farming is everything because it is through that I am able to provide food, shelter and clothing for my family. Am also paying school bills and medical needs of my family alone as I have never got government employment since I know myself,” tells disclosed to The Chronicle.
Saidy’s request for subsidies and incentive has also been re-echoed by Numu Ndow, a 65 years farmer also residing in Kaur. He said provision of subsidies and incentives will go a long way in encouraging many Gambians including the young ones to venture into farming.
“This year is a very difficult year for farmers because of the pandemic that almost ruined everything. However, I think the government should help us to subsidise fertilizer and rice for farmers because this will seriously help us to concentrate more on the farms,” Ndow appeals.
According to him, there is a need for the government to provide donkeys and horses as well as sowing and tilling machines on loan basis which farmers could repay in five years. He believes that this can cater for feeding solutions in the life after COVID-19 which remains uncertain.
Ndow notes that farm implements are crucial to farmers and any help of subsidy will improve their yields.
At the moment, farmers across the country are weeding their crops such as peanuts as Gambia’s main export crop, millets, maize etc. But they believe that such assistants are still not too late to be done, particularly fertilizer.
“We definitely need government’s intervention especially on the issue of reducing the prices of fertilizer. It’s true that the government has reduced the price but yet we cannot buy because of the situation farmers and other nationals find themselves in, especially this COVID-19 situation,” Ndow tells The Chronicle.
“I want to appeal to the government to bring down the price of a bag of fertiliser to either four or five hundred dalasi because this is the only way to help farmers at this time of the coronavirus pandemic.”
The Chairman of Kuntaur Area Council in the Central River Region North, Saihou Jawara, an active farmer too, is not pleased with the way the government is handling farming. He is cultivating peanuts farms.
“Is unfortunate that the government is not giving the needed attention to agricultural development and without this, we will continue to pay the price.
“Imagine CRR North alone, when given the necessary attention, can feed the nation because the land is available with fresh water as well as the manpower to make this possible,” Jawara tells The Chronicle.
He called on the government to help Local Government Councils to bankroll agricultural development in various regions of the country. He believes that farming activity has heavily reduced due to lack of strong investment in agriculture.