open for business

Honorable Hassan G. Sallah, Secretary of State for Agriculture

Department of State for Agriculture

Interview with:

Honorable Hassan G. Sallah
Secretary of State for Agriculture

September 28th, 2000
The Gambia is famous for its Groundnut production. But we also see growing some other activities, like horticulture. Would you please give to the readers of Forbes Global a brief overview of the diversity of the agricultural sector in The Gambia?

Agriculture accounts for up to 25% of GDP and it provides employment for seventy percent of the citizens. Groundnuts is the major contributor to this performance although over the years we have had fluctuations in terms of productivity, we feel that the yield trend has been on the increase i.e. for the last years we were able to get a turnover of 127,000 tones of which 43.000 tones were marketed.

However, we've been through a lot of difficulties in marketing the groundnut crop and the price trend in the world market has not been that good. We have been thinking of diversifying our efforts into other crops like horticulture, which is very important. We have many comparative advantages such as being close to Europe, having the right climate and an abundance of labour. For the last few years we have been making a lot of efforts so as to improve our productivity in the horticultural sub sector, and we will continue to put more efforts because it has a great potential and it will help boost our export in the agricultural sector.

We were also able to look into a particular crop like the cashew: a campaign has already been launched and 200.000 seeds distributed to farmers and some of them have already acquired seeds on their own and they have already planted significant hectares of cashew this year. Cashew has lot of advantages in terms of addressing some of our environmental problems.

Another significant crop in The Gambia is Rice. A significant tonnage is consumed every year and the Government is doing its best to make sure that there is enough for all. That is the reason the government is working hand in hand with the Taiwanese agricultural mission in the Gambia, both in the lowlands and in the uplands. Presently, we have a project under the Department of State for Agriculture which is working with farmers to rehabilitate some of the areas around the country that have become unproductive because of salinity problems. In terms of rice, we have seen significant yield increase. For this rainy season, it is estimated that 35 thousand metric tons of rice will be harvested.

We have also worked on cotton but we have seen a downward trend in terms of both yield as well as hectares. We have now worked out a new understanding with the European Union Office this year, to assist in revising the trend in the cotton sub-sector upwards.

We have also tried to improve the productivity of the cereals. Our yields have increased by more than 100% in the last ten years. We now have a total cereal production of about 150.000 metric tones. An other important crop is sesame, which was introduced by CRS. The crop is grown mainly by women who have formed an association known as National Association of Women Farmers-NAWFA to facilitate both production and marketing of this crop.

It is surprising to know that there is no more state-owned company for Groundnut production. The Gambia had one called Gambia Groundnut Corporation, which has been sold to a foreign company -Alimenta that finally stopped the GGC's production before leaving the country. What is today the resolution of the Gambia Groundnut Corporation GGC imbroglio? Is the Government willing to bring back GGC into the country?

As you rightly pointed out, we had some problems with the Gambia Groundnut Council (GGC), otherwise known as Alimenta. We had a situation where in the last two years there had been difficulties in the groundnut sub-sector due to the absence of an industrialist whose role was played by the Gambia Groundnut Council. We are now negotiating with the GGC. We have had our first round of negotiations and hope to have another in October 2000 and we hope to resolve this problem peacefully during this second meeting.

Last year Sapu-Rice fields produced around 20 000 tones of rice. According to you, does this production have to be increased? Is The Gambia driving towards food self-sufficiency?

It is our goal, and we have discussed this issue with our donor partners who have indicated interest in working with us in this area. However, despite the objective of self - sufficiency, we still do not have a clearly formulated plan on how to achieve this goal. Our priority therefore is to quickly develop a strategy for achieving food self-sufficiency. Fortunately we are working towards a donor's conference, which will be held in December this year. We hope that by that time we would have been able to spell out a strategy in order to invite other partners to work with us on our plan to achieve food self-sufficiency.

What are your Department of State's plans for technology development through research institutes, especially for fertilizers production.

We will perhaps attain our goal of food self-sufficiency and for that, any meaningful agricultural development will only take place if it is accompanied with a very practical and realistic effort to develop technology. Technology not only in terms of the equipment but technology in terms of crop production practices. We are going to focus on that and I think that the effort has already commenced in the area of rice for instance. We have a research program, which is focusing and looking at new varieties, fertilizing, spacing and other agronomic practices that will help us to ensure that we can increase yield in a given area of land. We are also looking at other technological improvements that will help us to achieve other goals in agriculture. I think in this area mechanization is going to be very important too, because if we can come up with technology that will help ease the drudgery of agriculture then our farmers can grow more hectares. The issue of technology is an important complement to whatever we do in the endeavour to ameliorate the condition of farmers.

What is DOSA's strategy to boost exports diversification in terms of quality, marketing & branding?

I think that the issue of quality will be extremely important in whatever we do. So far, we have been able to provide the European market with groundnut of high quality and we wish to maintain that standard. Last year was a very tough year because we had a longer rainy season than usual. We had more rain than we had had for many years. I think our first bet is really to focus on the issue of quality, and this is where we have been working on as part of the revitalization effort of the groundnut sub-sector. We have already discussed with a well-known lab in Europe and we hope that they are going to set up a facility here so that all the testing can be done internally. This way, we can make sure we keep up to the standards that are set by the buyers we are dealing with in Europe.

We are also looking at quality especially in Groundnut, not only from that point of view but also from the people's harvest level. If there is a lot of rain the quality of nuts reduces. Therefore, the nuts need to be dried adequately. The issue of quality is crucial not only for groundnuts, but for other crops such as rice where the moisture level is extremely important. We will make sure that we look at the varieties again so that we grow the right varieties and not mix them up to avoid quality control problems. In general, I would like to say that quality is going to receive special attention because we know that if we are going to compete it will not be based on quantity alone but also on quality.

For a long time the Gambia was known for producing oil-nuts. We now want to diversify into Hand Pick and Selected nuts (HPS) so that we can target new products. The trend in fact in the world market for Groundnut is that the prices for HPS are going up whereas the prices for nuts that are used for oil - Fair Average Quality (FAQ) and birds food are going down. So, we are trying to increase the ratio of HPS that we produce and in the long run look at the possibilities of setting up of value-added facilities here so that we can process the nuts into biscuits, chocolate for export to other countries. So, the issue of diversifying the produce is going to be significant in our effort.
Concerning Horticulture and its marketing, what are the efforts being made for Phytosanitary inspection of Gambia's exports? Is it a challenge now to encourage this production?

I think the major challenge in the improvement of horticulture in The Gambia is that of ensuring an adequate and sufficient supply of water, so that the production of vegetables can increase as well as the demand. There are indications that some private investors want to invest in the horticulture sub-sector. Already a private company has approached us from the Republic of China, Taiwan. They want us to give them land to grow 700 hectares of vegetables. That is almost half the total hectarage under production in the country, which is significant. So, we are going to see a situation where the effort is going to focus on both increasing the hectares and also diversifying the vegetables that are grown in the Gambia. We will also make sure we meet the necessary quality standard. Another problem of horticulture in this country is storage, which the Government is working on. During the dry season the competition for labor, problems of water and storage are being addressed in the sub-sector.

Would you please explain to what extent The Gambia is involved in the development of projects with international co-operation ?

Currently, we have two projects that are being implemented in collaboration with (IFAD) International Fund for Agricultural Development. The Low Land Development Project commonly known as (LADEP) focuses on trying to improve the rehabilitation of land in the low land areas that had been made redundant by salt intrusion. They also help women who grow rice to adopt agronomic practices that will increase productivity in their areas. This project has been on for three years, and this is an eight-year project to improve and increase the exploitable lands across the country.

In Agriculture, we are working on three priority areas: soil fertility improvement, water control and credit provision. If we can address these constraints, our Agriculture will be on the way to achieving higher heights.

Another problem in agriculture is to improve the soils' quality. We need to deal with the problems of low lands and up lands, where you can have a situation where the low lands can become so sandy that their productivity will be called to question. The third thing is the issue of water control. We are located in the Sahel where water is a major difficulty. If we could really control the water problem then we would reach a lot of the objectives that we have in the agricultural sub-sector.

I have no doubt that, if we had control of the problem, farmers would have the technology to produce the crops. These are the three areas that will be important to discuss with partners in order to develop the agricultural strategies.

The second part of your question dealt with the issue of CILSS (Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel). This organization brings together a group of countries in the Sahel trying to address the problems of drought and desertification. The Gambia currently chairs the CILSS (The President of the Republic of the Gambia is the chairman of CILSS) and the Minister of Agriculture is the Minister Coordinator.

In the last few months we have been working at different levels in CILSS both in the south as well as in the north to redefine CILSS, given the fact that a lot of things have been happening not only at the level of the Sahel but also at the level of the whole west African sub-region, so we have been asking ourselves a number of questions e.g. is the issue of regional integration, can we go over it alone? And I think that on the other hand we can come up with a situation where we can work with neighboring countries. Even at the agricultural level if we did that, wouldn't it be more helpful to the development of the people of the Sahel or of the sub-region? There are a number of intergovernmental organizations within the sub-region. We are saying can we not harmonize those IGOs? Couldn't we say that ECOWAS should be the over riding space for the IGOs? And shouldn't we say that some of the smaller IGOs like CILSS can specialize in food security and the environment and in monitoring issues and so on. So, these are issues we have been debating both in the south and also with our partners in the north. We are also looking at the issue of aid reforms. What are all these conditional ties about? Do we really own what comes to us, or are we taking the leadership role? If we look at all those development strategies, they are formulated in the north.

Now if you do not talk about poverty reduction you will not qualify for donor assistance. You have to design every thing that you do around the poverty reduction strategy program. So, we were saying if that continues to be the trend, who is really playing the role of a leader? Do we own the development in our countries and so on? These are the issues we want to put on the table in the next CILSS meeting. We have been working on this in the past few weeks trying to brief the Heads of State in the sub-region and invite them to the November meeting. We think these are important issues for which political decisions need to be taken.

What final message would you address to our international readership and to potential investors?
As far as investment opportunities are concerned, we have been looking at these issues at the level of the Department of State for Agriculture. We think that there are several opportunities. First, at the production level we have some of the best soils in terms of rice production. We have demonstrated that it is quite easy to make ten tones of rice per hectare in this country. We have had the experience under the Jahally-Pachar Small-Scale Project. The Chinese Agricultural Technical Mission has achieved outstanding yields these years. We have evidence of soils in some parts of the Central River Division that are even virgin soils that have the potential to produce far more than 10 tones per hectare. There is a potential for investment in the area of rice production. We are now shifting from pump-irrigated rice to tidal irrigated rice, which can reduce significantly foreign exchange expenditure. The other potential is in the area of cereal production; we have a maize package, which we started last year. The program is on this year and the evidence is that you can easily produce around three tones of maize per hectare in this country with the provision of fertilizer and equipment.

Potential investors have already visited the country and are planning to invest in the area of maize production. At that level, we can even organize the farmers to do the production and those interested in maize will be responsible for the marketing. Given the fact that maize is very useful feed for poultry one can perhaps also easily market the crop and even start a poultry scheme as many Gambians are already in the poultry business.

Horticulture has a lot of potential. Some Indians have invested in farms and they are doing extremely well, in fact they are growing sweet corn and exporting it to Europe and also growing a lot of chilies, which they also export to the Indian community in the UK.

In horticulture both in terms of fruits and vegetable we have a lot of potential. We can also invest in storage horticulture like fruit preservation e.g. Mangoes, Oranges; etc can be made into juices to ensure that there is enough supply to meet the demand during off seasons.

In terms of the cereals, the strategy will be to process most of it into flour. As mentioned earlier, the total tonnage is about 150.000 metric tones per year and most of it is consumed locally. However the drudgery of processing cereals has been a limiting factor in increasing production. Due to the drudgery, people would rather grow other crops or eat rice because rice is not as difficult to process as the cereals. Investors can invest in the area of cereal milling so that the flour could be marketed locally or exported to countries within the sub-region. We know that there is a potential on the production side to also grow sugar cane in the Gambia. There is also a potential on bananas that can be exploited by investors.

So, indeed in the agricultural sector there are some areas that potential investors can consider investing in. Labour is relatively cheap here and this will help to ensure that agriculture in the Gambia is competitive.

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© World INvestment NEws, 2001.
This is the electronic edition of the special country report on Gambia published in Forbes Global Magazine.

May, 14th 2001 Issue.
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