Monday, June 5, 2017

One tractor is increasing agricultural production and yield in 27 villages

The multiple roles the tractor plays make it a lucrative investment. They use it for tilling the ground, transporting sand and stones for housing (Photo taken from Sunu Rew shows a tractor parked at Bansang Hospital)
Mbappa Mariga is a small village in Sabah Sanjal district in the North Bank Region where the availability of a tractor is gradually improving agricultural production and yield in 27 villages.

And as a result, it has led to increased social benefits for children’s education and the utilization of the tool in the expansion of settlements across the Gambian border.

Inspired by the successes registered by associations in neighbouring villages, Mbappa Mariga’s Fass Jom Group was established, to support poor farmers and their children in that part of rural Gambia.

We set up the Fass Jom after seeing the good work done by similar associations our region, the Group’s President Omar Nget said. Some of these associations bought some machines like sine hoes and cultivars to rent to some of their members who do not have the means to own one – so that they are not left behind during the rainy season. 

Biggest challenge before intervention

Other associations also made it an initiative to buy bags of rice during the rainy season (lean season) to distribute to their members and allows for it to be repaid after harvest. Gambian farmers, who make up of the majority of the country’s poor, usually find it very difficult to buy food stock at this time of the year. 

Mr. Nget said these were some of the issues they had in mind when they decided more than 30 years ago to establish their association – to address some of the major challenges of poverty and low financial income of farmers. 

The group is made up of 42 members, among them men, women and youth. In 2015, they benefitted from the Capital Investment Stimulation Fund (CISF), a subcomponent of the Nema project, from which they bought a tractor. 

The CISF is a tripartite matching grant facility in which the Nema project accepts business project proposals and pays for 45 percent of the cost, another 45 percent is given to the applicant as bank loan and 10 percent is paid for by the beneficiary. 

According to Mr. Nget, the Fass Jom Group saw the need to take the matching grant to help improve their income and improve agricultural production at Mbappa Mariga and in 26 villages in the Sabah Ward where there was no tractor.

“Our biggest challenge as farmers was the lack of a tractor in the entire Sabah Ward. We use to travel to Farafenni to book a tractor and because it has been booked within that town it takes a long time before we can have access to it and sometimes our cultivation is a little late,” said Nget, who is also the chairperson of Mbappa Mariga Village Development Committee (VDC).

He said for the past 30 years, agricultural yield has been very low because they lacked the tools to increase production. He said the Group’s farms were producing a maximum 15 bags of groundnuts, 8 bags of early millet and maize per season.

They could not venture into rice production at the time and the Group’s annual income use to be a maximum D7000 or D8000.

Production is bigger

However, he said since they secured the tractor in 2015, production is bigger. Nget said the Group’s first rice field of half a hectare (ha) produced 10 bags of rice, the groundnut farm of three hectares produced 50 bags. 

“We are expecting to have 20 bags of early millet from a one and half hectares, and our cassava farm is being sold for D25, 000,” he said. “The tractor has made a lot of impact in our farming – it did not only boost production and yield, it also increased our income as an association.”

According to Nget, despite a series of challenges in 2015, with the additional expenditure on tractor parts that are strong and adaptable to the conditions of the area where there are rocks and stumps, and the continual border closures between The Gambia and Senegal, the tractor generated an income of about D70, 000.
In 2016, the tractor generated an income of D280, 000. This money is save at Reliance Financial Services – the partner bank that matched 45 percent of the grant and also the 10 percent (D200, 000) that was to be financed by Fass Jom. 
The association said it is also providing scholarships packages to 12 children in the Arabic and English schools that includes tuition, uniforms, books and shoes. Mr. Nget said they also employed a driver and another person whose job is to keep records of the work done and income generated by the tractor. 

He said other expenditures from the proceeds of the tractor include fuel and monthly maintenance or when there is a breakdown to have it repaired. 

Mr. Nget (L) said for the past 30 years, agricultural yield has been very low because they lacked the tools to increase production (Photo Credit: Mamadou Edrisa Njie)

Tilling the land

For the association, the multiple roles the tractor can play make it a lucrative investment. They use it for tilling the ground, transporting sand and stones used for housing construction.

Nget said non-members of Fass Jom pay D1100 per hectare if they want their land to be tilled, while members of the association pay D800.

However, the income generated by the tractor did not reflect their projected annual income of between D100, 000 and D150, 000 in their first year.  

Nget said this is due to numerous setbacks they experienced since the arrival of the tractor. “We had to change some of the parts including the bearings and the wheels because they are not made for operations under the type of [rough] conditions we have in our farms,” he said.  
“Then we had an accident, the tractor ran over a young boy. It disturbed us a lot, to an extent we had to secure a loan from someone to finance what was required of us after the death of the child,” he added.

Mr. Nget also said the closure of The Gambia-Senegal border was a huge setback for his Fass Jom Group. He said though they had contracts from neighbouring villages in Senegal, the authorities there did not allow for the tractor to cross into Senegal to take up jobs there.

He said even after the border was reopened, Senegalese authorities are requesting that Fass Jom be paying D6000 for every entry their tractor made into the neighbouring country deliver services to its clientele across the border.

“These charges are huge and it will affect our business. I am trying to engage them to reduce the cost because it is not in our favour,” Nget said. “Also, it is not every day that we are getting contracts; sometimes we can sit for a week without working because there are no requests.” 

Human development 

While the Fass Jom Group is faced with new challenges thanks to a change in fortunes, it said it didn’t stop its support to children’s education. 

“We are doing this not only to support the children, but we want them to also know the importance of our association in human development and the importance of leadership and governance,” the Group’s President said.

Mr. Nget added that “if the children are not educated and enlightened enough to know how their parents struggled to educate them, then they would not become better leaders and managers in the future.

“We want our children to know the importance of leadership, responsibility and governance - so that they will know that it is this association that ‘my parents belonged to’ that has brought these benefits to them, and then they will be committed to maintaining and managing the association better when they take the mantle of leadership.”
Supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Nema project aims to improve productivity through land and water management and integrated value chain.

It aims to strengthen the agricultural sector to increase productivity, improve farmers’ income, expand rural economy for employment creation, and reduce food imports.

Written by Modou S. Joof

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