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Army Defends $125 million Commercial Agric Project, Says It’ll Create Employment

The Gambia Armed Forces Monday defended its $125 million agric project that will see the army venture into different aspects of commercial agriculture.

On April 8th, President Adama Barrow gave his blessings to GAF to embark on a large scale commercial agricultural production following an agreement with US agribusiness company (AGCO). The president assured the Armed Forces and its investment partner of his office’s support to the project.

Many people took to the social media and other platforms to criticize the move. Among them is Dr. Ousman Gajigo, an economist, a farmer and The Chronicle contributor. In his piece ‘Another Reason to Abolish the Military in The Gambia’, he argued “there is nothing in the constitution that requires the army to partake in commercial activities, whether by itself or in collaboration with other entities.” Activist Madi Jobarteh raised concern that the project could result to the army having too much powers and influencing the national economy and politics.

President Barrow with members of GAF and AGCO at State House  © GAF

But at a press conference at the Defense Headquarters in Banjul, army PRO Major Lamin Sanyang said the initiative is constitutional and within the mandate of the army.

“Section 187 of the Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia states the roles of the army in clear terms, such as preserving the territorial integrity of the country against external aggression, aid civil authorities on request and on cases of national disasters, and engage at the request of the civil authorities such as on agriculture, health, education and engineering,” he said.

According to him, the project is meant to make the army self reliant, adding that the army’s role has now gone beyond the traditional role of defending the territorial sovereignty of the country.

“Contrary to uninformed opinions from certain quarters, the Gambia Armed Forces has been engaging actively in national development. The Gambia Armed Forces has been engaging in productive activities such as engineering, health and education for three decades. It’s only in agriculture that the participation of the army has been at a lower stage.”

Under the project, the army will venture into tidal rice irrigation, horticulture, aquaculture, animal husbandry, poultry, and moringa and sugar cane production. It has already secured 50,000 hectares of land that spread from Lower Saloum, Nianija, Niani and Fulladu in the Central River Region (CRR) to start this project.

GAF senior officers at work  © GAF

“We have not taken guns to force any community to give us lands. We instead engaged communities through the governors and other relevant stakeholders to help us secure lands so as to engage in our project,” said Colonel Essa Tamba, the head of the agricultural team of the armed forces.

According to him, the idea behind the decision to go to CRR is because of the availability of fresh water and farmlands in the region. He said most of the farms acquired by the army for the project are lands that have not been used for farming for decades.

Tamba said the Gambia Armed Forces initially made a proposed budget of $4 million to AGCO Group, but the company offered to invest $125 million in the project. He said the project will create employment opportunities for many communities in the rural areas, adding that 30% of its workforce will be drawn from the communities that provided the lands. Colonel Tamba also told journalists that “the project will receive five million birds for breeding that will at least reduce the burden we put on imported chickens.”

some of AGCO’s brands © AGCO

On the question of why the army couldn’t give such funds to the Ministry of Agriculture to embark on such a project, Tamba said in the past the ministry had wasted millions of dollars on projects that woefully failed. “This is the time for the army to prove itself and help the nation to become food self-sufficient within three years,” he said.

It is not clear how much AGCO will get in return once the project kicks off.

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