Gov’t releases D37.7M for seeds procurement
Friday, May 11, 2012
The government of The Gambia has released the sum of D37.7 million for the procurement of groundnut seeds, for onward distribution to the farming community in the upcoming cropping season, the minister of Agriculture disclosed to Daily Observer Wednesday.
Solomon Owens, who described as “a great show of political will and biggest contribution” this move by the government, was speaking to this reporter in an exclusive interview at his office in the Quadrangle, Banjul.
Coming two months after the 2011-2012 farming season was officially declared by the Gambia government, this latest move is part of its relentless efforts to alleviate the impact of the crop failure and a corresponding soaring of food prices.
It would be recalled that in a March media communiqué, the Ministry of Agriculture indicated that the post-harvest assessment of the 2011 farming season, which was characterised by below normal and poorly distributed rainfall, indicated a reduction in total crop production of more than 70%; thus leaving the farmers with insufficient stocks for feeding, as well as seeds for the next cropping season.
But in the words of Minister Solomon Owens, the Gambia government under the leadership of President Jammeh can only be commended for addressing this very critical plight of the farmers.
“The biggest contribution in my own perspective is the ensuring by government that farmers have inputs for the coming season because they lost a lot during the last season, they could not keep seed and there is no fertilizer. Government will provide seed especially groundnut and fertilizer,” he underscored.
The Agriculture minister explained that they cannot buy seeds internationally because they have adapted varieties that they need to use, thus the need to look inwards. He informed the Daily Observer that currently the process is on and it is being “very well” managed by the Gambia Groundnut Corporation.
“They are buying seeds from farmers from wherever they can get it, but mostly from farmers who have excessive seeds and they are bringing in; there are some private companies that have groundnut seeds and they are bringing it and they are also visiting the ‘Sandikas’ [a market for locally produced stocks] where you usually have stock of groundnuts,” he added.
Owens, who assumed office in February as deputy Agriculture minister before his elevation to the top position, said as of today, they have already guaranteed the supply of 2,000 metric tons of groundnut seed.
“As we buy them, they are being treated with insecticides and fungicides to protect them and as soon as they are treated they are also being transported to the affected areas. Currently what is being purchased is going to North Bank Region and the Central River Region North, but other areas may benefit depending on how much seed we are able to generate,” he further explained.
Minister Owens said the government is not limited to that, adding that it is also raising some money for them to buy some recommended seeds varieties from the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
His words: “I traveled to Nigeria to inspect what was available there and it is very expensive but government has insisted we get some of those and so we are going to get at least a 100 tons of that seeds, which are highly certified seeds.”
Seed Multiplication Programme
The Agriculture minister also revealed plans by his ministry to carry out what he called a Seed Multiplication Programme, stating that the seeds from Nigeria will not be utilised for this season but they are going to multiply them for the subsequent farming seasons. To this end, he further revealed that they will multiply the seeds at sites that are already prepared in Giroba Kunda in URR, in Chamen in the NBR, and in Sapu in CRR.
He continued: “We already have irrigational facilities there so we are going to do double-triple multiplication – we will multiply some during the rainy season and after harvest we can continue multiplying the balance during the dry season under irrigation to ensure that we have good quality seeds for the 2013 planting season.”
Minister Owens described the multiplication programme as necessary, because as he puts it, “one problem we have with our seed is that the genetic potential has totally eroded to the extent that the yield potential has declined”.
He added: “These same varieties used to yield up 1.5 tons per hectare and today the average we can get from this is about 800 kilo which is not good. So this process of multiplication will rejuvenate the seeds and we hope that by 2013, we will start realising the 1.2 to 1.5 tons per hectare.”
Severity of crop failure
Commenting on the severity of the crop failure, Minister Owens said it cannot be overemphasised in view of the fact that it is really a crisis when farmers lost 70 percent of their potential production in terms of their food availability for the year, and in terms of the income they could have yielded for the sale of their produce.
His words: “So really the situation is so severe. Even a 10 percent drop in production is a big problem not to talk of 70 percent. Food availability for the year will be a problem; seed for the coming planting season has also become a problem because not enough was produced; so it’s a question of food and seed not to mention feed also for the livestock. So these are the three very important components of the crisis – food shortage, feed and seed unavailability.”
The Agric minister reiterated that the government has been very concerned about the plight of not only the farmers but the average consumer in this country. He emphasised that it while it is true that farmers are affected and bear the greatest brunt, the urban population that also depend on agricultural produce for their food and income are equally affected.
“The government has the National Disaster Management Committee that meets very regularly to assess the ongoing crisis. Government also has a National Food Security Council, which involves all ministers, permanent secretaries and development partners; they also meet very frequently under the leadership and chair of the vice president of the Republic and minister of Women’s Affairs [Her Excellency Aja Dr. Isatou Njie-Saidy].
Now in all of these bodies, the concern is how do we cater for the vulnerable population of this country that are affected. In terms of addressing the food situation in collaboration with the World Food Programme and the Gambia Government; food as you already know is being distributed in the hard hit areas, especially in the Central River Region and from there they will move to other regions; three affected districts in WCR, and other areas in NBR, and LRR,” he concluded.
The full text of Minister Solomon Owens interview will be published on our next week’s Friday edition of the Bantaba, which covers a lot of areas critical to the development of the agriculture sector, the mainstay of the Gambia economy.
Author: Hatab Fadera