RICE as a staple food in Gambia is mainly imported from Asia (Photo credit: Facts and Details)
The Gambia has the potential to produce more than two million tonnes of rice yearly, it’s President and leading farmer, Yahya Jammeh has said.
Two weeks ago, Jammeh announced his government’s plan to initiate an all-year rice production scheme that could further efforts to attaining food self-sufficiency. We must feed ourselves, he said of The Gambia, which is endowed with land and fresh water.
Jammeh had since last year vowed to ban the importation of rice, a staple, into the West African country by 2016. He is touring the country on his annual ‘meet-the-people-tour’ with an idea of a “Vision 2016 Rice Self-sufficiency Agenda.”
State TV images show Mr Jammeh visiting farms lands and rice fields across the regions, which he said if developed, the country can produce more than two million tonnes of rice on a yearly basis.
“I can see that even the Central River Region (CRR) alone the potentials are there… we can produce millions of tonnes of rice and other cereals in this country,” the Daily Observer quoted Mr Jammeh as saying on April 28, 2014.
“After so many years of being a net importer of food items, we will become one of the biggest exporters of rice in five years time. We must achieve that.”
‘Most important staple’
According to the Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy (ANR 2009-2015), the total rice production in 2008 was 24, 895 tonnes, leaving a massive deficit of 150, 605 tons of national requirement.
Rice is the most important staple food crop in The Gambia with per person consumption rate of about 117kg, according to a 2002 study, Economic Impact Assessment of the Rice Research Programme in The Gambia.
It accounts for 25-30 per cent of total cereal consumption, with the country’s annual total rice requirement estimated at 157, 616 tonnes.
The study indicated that only 12 per cent is being met through local production (19,000 tonnes). “This huge deficit is made up of costly imports, which in 2000 cost Gambia D196 million to import 94 tonnes.”
It stated that the potential for rice production is greater in the lowlands and this accounts for about 65 per cent of The Gambia’s 11300 km2 land area. Current rice production yields are generally low with an average of 700kg per hectare for local and up to 1 tonne per hectare for improved cultivars.
From 1988-2000, Gambia’s upland rice production increased from 3.88-10.08 tonnes while swamp rice production decreased from 19.63-10.6 tonnes, according to a National Sample Survey (NASS) of the department of planning.
Food and Agricultural Organisation, FAO, statistics in 1995 indicated that the average rice self-sufficiency in West Africa was at 46.6 per cent between 1986 and 1996, with The Gambia standing at 18 per cent.
“The potential arable land in Africa is 637 million hectares and about 68 per cent of the total area is in reserves,” researcher Okigbo B.N. stated in The Developmental Effectiveness of Food in Africa, study of 1982.
“Africa therefore has great potential for expanding its agricultural production in general and rice in particular,” the study published by the New York Agricultural Development Council stated.
In The Gambia, it is estimated that there are 5000-7000 hectares that could be cultivated under upland rice, but a 1995 NASS survey estimated that only 3, 043 hectares were cultivated, with an average yield of 1.2 tonnes per hectare.
The crops sub-sector generates about 40 per cent of foreign exchange earnings and accounts for about 33 per cent of Gambia’s gross domestic product, the total value of goods and services that the country produces in a year.
Seventy per cent of the labour force is engaged in crop production which provides for about 75 per cent of total household incomes, the ANR policy stated.
Experts say The Gambia’s underutilized agricultural potentials are mainly due to insufficient investment in the sector and the high illiteracy rate among farmers who lack the knowledge and resources to expand production beyond subsistence farming and heavy reliance on rain-fed cropping.
Written by Modou S. Joof
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