The Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology, has said that The Gambia is a fertile ground for any type of agricultural investment.

Dr Aboubacarr A Senghore made this remark at the opening ceremony of a three-day workshop, organised by the Africa Centre of Excellence (ACE), a World Bank-funded project aimed at providing an update on where they are in terms of project implementation or preparations toward project implementation take-off as well as share ideas and gain additional knowledge and skills on various tools relevant to successful execution of the ACE Project.

Minister Senghore indicated that the advent of the government’s food self-sufficiency agenda – Vision 2016 – is suggestive of how the government of The Gambia places a high premium on agriculture. To this end, he noted that a large number of the rural populations are involved in subsistence agriculture.

The goal of this, he went on, is to attain food security and self-sufficiency within a short period of time, adding that the short and long term training packages in relevant areas such as soil, water and crop management, agri-business management and research on improved crop will yield positive dividends.

Minister Senghore affirmed that The Gambia being the only country that qualified for the second component of this important project, the government has set the task of building capacity of the University of The Gambia.

He thus assured that the event will register an indelible mark in the annals of the history of educational development in The Gambia, adding that the project steering committee’s choice for the country to host this important event is immensely appreciated by the government and the people.

He informed the gathering that the University of The Gambia, amid skepticism was established in 1999 from the status of a University Extension Programme with the Halifax University in Canada in 1995.

“As Africans we must believe that the potential for greatness and for excellence has no racial or geographic boundaries, coupled with African states desire to move from a low-income economy status to a middle-level or develop country using higher education as a catalyst for sustainable socio-economic development.”

He disclosed that The Gambia is grappling with challenges of developing their human capital stock particularly in the critical sectors of education, health and agriculture in addition to the dire need to improve capacities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in order to accelerate sustainable socio-economic growth and development.

In the area of agriculture, Dr. Senghore maintained, it is important to note that the government of The Gambia places a high premium on agriculture as large number of the rural population is involved in subsistence agriculture.

For his part, Professor Etienne E. Ehile, secretary general of the Association of African Universities (AAU), representative of His Excellency President Yahya Jammeh welcome the participants to the third ACE Project Workshop.

The ACE project, he went on, seeks to among other things address specific regional development challenges on the continent through the disciplinary fields of STEM, agriculture and health sciences; as well as to enhance the capacity of the centres to deliver regional high quality training and applied research, in addition to building industry/sector partnerships to raise quality of education and capacity of network partners.

According to him, providing quality higher education and research lies at the heart of the organisational mandate of the AAU and receives priority attention in the Strategic Plan and Core Programme of the Association, adding that the AAU believes that sound, strategic investments in higher education and research in Africa will pay off in the form of strong academic institutions and their societal engagement. He affirmed that investments have many benefits, including contributing to the development of their countries’ intellectual resources, competent workforces, visionary leaders, gender equality and human rights.

Ehile thus commended the World Bank for its decisive paradigm shift in placing high premium on higher education, leading to the establishment of the African Centre of Excellence (ACE) project, with focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, Health Sciences and Agricultural Sciences; and for setting aside a maximum of US$8 million credit facility per institution selected for the ACE project in West and Central Africa.

by Lolly M. Camara