Mini Read: THE LOOMING FOOD CRISIS: N0 NEED TO PANIC !
Monday, May 05, 2008
Rice is the major staple food in The Gambia. An estimated 66% of household income is spent on food. Out of which about 30.9% is spent on cereal and cereal products, of which the major part 83.2% is rice (National Household Poverty Survey -NHPS 1998)
Cereal production under the upland production systems on alluvial soils, is predominantly subsistence rain-fed agriculture. As a result, the decline in annual rainfall, and the erratic nature of the rains due to the climate change phenomenon, combined with declining soil fertility, have led to a severe decline in upland cereal production. This has resulted in sever food shortages, leading to increasing importation of cereals, which is exclusively rice! Furthermore, this serious decline in coarse grain production, has been exacerbated by a steady decline in rice production and productivity since 1980.
This situation has led to an explosive increase in the demand for imported rice, which has been further fuelled in part by a high population growth rate, and a high influx of refugees and immigrants from the sub-region. Furthermore, The Gambia has the highest per capita rice consumption (117.33kg) among Sahelian countries, and the third highest in West Africa (WARD 1993).
This explosive increase in the demand for imported rice, is happening at a time of increasing rural poverty and hardship, as a result of severe decline in the production of the main cash and export crop, groundnuts, as well as increasing urban poverty. Thus resulting in both low rural and urban purchasing power.
At present it is estimated that the country's requirement stands at an estimated 157,000 tonnes, while the total domestic production is estimated to represent only about 12%. This therefore, makes The Gambia a net importer of rice.
Therefore, there is no doubt that The Gambia is highly vulnerable to the continuous soaring price of rice. However, there is no need to panic!
There is in The Gambia, considerable potential for increased rice production and productivity, given the fact that the country is very fortunate indeed to be well endowed with some very important natural resources:-
* The River Gambia, the must important source of water availability for crop production, with abundant surface water for year round irrigation within its fresh water zone.
* largely unexploited vast fertile lowland swamps along the river.
* a semi-arid tropical climate, with high solar radiation (the primary determinant of crop productivity); and
.a growing season of normally 365 days.
All providing favourable conditions for rice production and many other crops.
Therefore the development of irrigation would provide a basis to develop a productive, sustainable and diversified agriculture, to achieve the desired rice self-sufficiency, as well as the development of a rice-based export-oriented agriculture, to increase the foreign exchange earning capacity of the country.
To put the rice situation in The Gambia in its proper perspective, we need to appreciate the fact that available data indicate that sufficient land is available to expand production to the level required to attain self-sufficiency.
However, because of the predominantly subsistence rain-fed production system, increased rice production and productivity has been severely constrained by the vagaries of the climate, characterized by one or more of the following climate change phenomena:
* consistent late onset of the rains
* a decline in rainfall in the middle of the season
* an early end to the season, or end-of-season drought
* increased variability in annual rainfall
* increased frequency of drought, dry spells, and
* increased frequency of intensive rainfall and runoff, resulting in severe floods,
Thus rice cultivation is primarily limited by the availability of water and labour, rather than land availability.
Past Irrigation Development Efforts
As a consequence of the above, the then government shortly after independence initiated the development of irrigation to counter the effects of these adverse climatic conditions. The development of irrigation is absolutely crucial, in view of the fact that available information on climate change, clearly indicates the likely recurrence of droughts and floods in the foreseeable future.
Therefore the adoption by the government at the time, of an explicit rice self-sufficiency stance through irrigated rice production was absolutely crucial.
Since then, The Gambia has witnessed nearly 42 years of uninterrupted irrigated rice development efforts with massive public investment through donor assistance, in pursuit of a policy of self-sufficiency. However, lessons and experiences of these past irrigated rice development projects, clearly indicate a generally poor performance with terribly low yields, primarily due to poor infrastructure and poor management.
The inherent problem with these projects, with their donor funded built-in credit components, was that infrastructure, inputs and services, were issued under the most lenient conditions imaginable, and without any supervision. A situation which breeds a sense of entitlement, a perception that government provided inputs and services need not be paid for, as must private provided ones.
With this situation, farmers were simply content with meeting subsistence needs. Thus the failure of these projects to achieve sustainable irrigated rice production. Hence leading to their abandonment, with costly developed public land simply lying idly, immediately after donor funding dries up at the end of project life.
The Present Situation
Today, we are faced with not only soaring rice prices, but the likelihood of a shortage of world rice supplies, as a result of a policy of export curtailment by some of the major rice exporting countries. This is further aggravated by an increase in the explosive demand for rice, due to yet another very poor grain harvest from last season (2007), and by the ever increasing low purchasing power of not only the rural and urban poor, but also of the majority of Gambians today.
Therefore, it is even more urgent today than ever before, to pursue a policy of self-sufficiency, which is justified on the basis that:
* Unforeseen shortages occurring in exporting countries
* Rice shortages as experienced in 1985 and 1995, is a clear signal of warning against over reliance on food imports, and
* That to rely on imports to satisfy increasing demands, is to court shortages caused by disruption of normal trade relations, or failure of the crop in areas of large production.
So what should be done?!
What should be done, is quite obvious from the foregoing! To improve the generally poor performance of irrigated rice systems, through improved infrastructure and management, to ensure the effective and efficient adoption of the available high-yield rice technologies of the Green Revolution, to achieve improved productivity and intensification for increased total rice production.
To this effect, based on sound agronomic literature, extensive professional training and extensive practical professional field experience, including experience as a bona fide commercial rice farmer, I have come up with a comprehensive and detail study on a new approach to conceptualizing irrigated rice development: A Concept Paper:-
"PUBLIC/PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP FOR DEVELOPMENT OF CONTRACT/ABSENTEE FARMING FOR CROP FINANCING OF IRRIGATED RICE DEVELOPMENT: A STRATEGY FOR ENHANCING SUSTAINABLE COMMERCIAL AGRICULTURE IN THE GAMBIA"
The Proposed New Approach
The study calls for intensive production commercialization as a means to improve the generally poor performance of past irrigated rice projects. Agricultural development depends on farms becoming more commercial, as increased yields lead to increases in marketable surpluses and a greater purchase of agricultural inputs, equipment, and services.
Thus leading to a greater involvement of the farmer/producer with the market.
To facilitate this process, it calls for a radial approach, a mix of public and private funding, to foster a symbiosis, a new model for cooperation between the public and the private sector for the development of profitable joint ventures.
With this new approach, public investment through donor assistance will be limited to infrastructure development and improvement, the provision of agricultural machinery, and institutional strengthening to build national capacity. While private investment through the development of the modern commercialized practice of contract farming operations, used widely in much of the developed world, and the well-established Gambian traditional practice of absentee farming, would provide domestic financing to enhance ready access to inputs, production credit, and remunerating marketing channels. This would limit the use of donor funds to only capital costs.
More donor funds would then become available for extensive infrastructure development and improvement, and institutional support for improved management. Thus leading to the improved performance of irrigated rice systems, as well as accelerating the pace of development. To this effect, public investment through donor assistance would be used to make private investment in agriculture profitable, while private investment would increase the return to public investment.
The study also calls for another very important radical departure from the past irrigated rice development projects. It calls for the establishment of a specialized, innovative, totally commercialized, sensitive extension services, to effect improved management.
With remunerations for coordinating, administering, and supervising the proposed concept of contract/absentee farming operations, the envisaged specialized, sensitive extension service, would have the most attractive service incentive package possible.
Thus providing the personnel with a sufficiently very high morale, to effect the successful implementation and sustainability of this new concept. With the adoption of the Modern Rice Integrated Crop Management (RICM) systems approach, the urgently required sensitive supervision, would be provided with disciplined, on-the-spot, hands on, daily presence, extension approach, to develop a systematic, commercially managed, agricultural production management system.
With sensitive supervision, not only would risk be contained, but efforts would be geared towards the highest possible reward/risk ratio for commercial investment in crop financing. Thereby developing a highly efficient production system to enhance the envisaged commercialization. Furthermore, the new approach advocates the establishment of a three-pronged approach to irrigated rice development:-
.commercialization of small farmers with sensitive support through the commercialized practice of contract farming operations.
* the promotion of large-scale private commercial farms through absentee farming operations. With the exciting prospect of the innovative idea of making available on a rental basis, public developed land to the private sector/the public at large.
.the setting up of a strategic National Grain Reserve, under the supervision of the National Disaster Relief committee, with in-kind, that is paddy rental payments from absentee farming operations.
This multi-stakeholder approach therefore presents a win-win situation, and allows for the effective participation of all stakeholders. It provides a unique opportunity for improving the family food supply, as well as the opportunity for profit-making, thereby strategically effecting import-substitution. Therefore, all should heed the call for back to the land, made by the His Excellency, The President, Dr. Alhaji Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh, by simply investing in crop financing of irrigated rice production through the proposed concept of contract/absentee farming operations.
This approach has shown with compelling statistics, a potentially very high profitability for commercial irrigated rice operations for a relatively short investment period of just about 4 months. Furthermore, it highlights the potentially very lucrative trade in surplus paddy, for an even much shorter investment period, that is just a matter of a few days to few weeks, to allow for the processing of paddy to milled rice.
A successful technology spreads spontaneously, therefore following a successful implementation of this new approach on the readily available idly lying, public developed land, this would trigger a massive demand, likely to include foreign investors, for irrigated rice operations.
Therefore the successful implementation of the envisaged commercialization programme, would lead to the development of a modern rice industry, to become the most important in terms of the number of people employed, food security, poverty reduction, import-substitution, and wealth creation.
A sustainable Long-Term Agricultural Development Strategy
In light of the looming world food crisis, and the urgent need to pursue a policy of food self-sufficiency, The Gambia needs to use this multi-stakeholder programme approach, to develop an overall sustainable long-term agricultural development strategy.
The programme can be developed into a home-grown genuine Green Revolution, with the slogan "Operation Feed And Enrich Yourself", a sustainable rice intensification and rice-based crop diversification production system, to develop the vast fertile lowland swamps along the abundant surface freshwater zone of the River Gambia, into the breadbasket region of the country.
This would provide the exciting prospect of developing the agricultural sector, The Gambia's economic engine, to its highest potential. This undoubtedly would help to revitalize and transform the sector. Which however, would require a target-based programme development-oriented approach, rather than what is currently on offer, an institutional restructuring- oriented approach.
In this regard, there would be need to develop target-based programmes for the key commodities (rice, millet/sorghum, maize, groundnuts and horticultural crops) that impact food security for The Gambia. The establishment of these programmes would lead to improved effectiveness of donor assistance.
Donor assistance can then be channelled directly to already existing established programmes to effect improvements and expansion only, rather than the very wasteful practice of always starting yet another new semi-autonomous duplicating project, with each new funding.
Author: by Alphu Jain Marong