As Gambia’s Groundnut Production Declines, Experts Call for Shift to Alternative Remunerative Crops
Experts in agriculture and economy have stressed the need for The Gambia to explore alternative remunerative or additional cash crops as the production of the traditional export crop – groundnut – continues to steadily decline.
About three decades ago, The Gambia was one of the highest exporters of groundnut in the sub-region. That trend has been declining for the past decade or more.
“There are two main reasons why the groundnut production has been going down; first is climatic factor because rainfall would not come on time and if does it takes a very short period of time and it cuts off,” Dr. Sidat Yaffa, the Dean at the School of Agriculture at the University of The Gambia told The Chronicle. “Before the 1990 The Gambia used to have about five months of rainfall and it used to come heavily – average per year would be 1000 milliliters,”
Today, rain fall has gone down and some parts of the country have an average of 800 milliliters which is not sufficient enough to produce groundnut.
Dr. Yaffa also blamed the former APRC and present governments for failing to provide timely and adequate farming inputs to farmers, saying that the first government – PPP- used to provide seeds, fertilizers and herbicides to farmers about two months before the rainy season started.
“This ensured that immediately the rain started, farmers didn’t waste any time and they would just go and apply those agricultural inputs. But hardly do you see those things now.”
Dr. Yaffa recalled those moments when mixed-farming centers were established across the country, filled with agricultural assistants, demonstrators and other officials to give ‘timely and needed’ supports to the farmers.
“Those were some of the factors that led to the increase of groundnut production in the country. So if you want to have a meaningful development in terms of agriculture vis-a-vis groundnut production, those are some the services that need to be revamped.”
But in terms diversifying or shifting from groundnut as a cash crop, he suggested the adoption of cotton and sesame, arguing that cotton had its glorious moments for farmers in the Upper River Region and it was exportable to France.
“That [cotton] should be revived in order to give more economic incentives to Gambian farmers. Another crop that could be introduced which could be processed here locally for our consumption mainly is sesame crop.”
The Gambia Women Farmers Association (GAWFA) was active in the cultivation of sesame but limited to a few regions in the country.
“It has to be a nation-wide crop in order to diversify the economic opportunities for Gambian farmers,” Dr. Yaffa told The Chronicle.
The Gambia is primarily an agricultural country with 80 percent of the population of just over 2 million depending on it for food and cash income. However, it’s mainly dependent on rainfall to cultivate major crops like groundnut.
“Because of the change in climate we cannot go that route any more. We have to improvise irrigational agriculture. We should tap into natural resources (fresh river water) in order to revamp the agricultural production in the country,” said Dr. Yaffa.
For economist Nyang Njie, the overall agricultural policy needs an overhaul, arguing that what worked three decades ago cannot work today.
“Our major cash crop – groundnut has suffered significant setback in the sense that Gambian groundnut in the 70s was very good because it was used for all the major chocolate factories in the world. But of late our groundnut deteriorated to the point it is either good for oil or animal feeds.”
According to Njie, the value for the farmer has significantly gone down considering the total tonnage that they normally produce on a yearly basis.
“So as a country, strategically in terms of policy we need to change and get a new cash crop. The concept should be what we called a high-value which today can be cashew nut,” he suggested in an interview with The Chronicle.
The Director of Agriculture Department and the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr. Saikou E. Sanyang admitted the low productivity of groundnut in recent times, but blamed the problem on climate change and aflatoxin (a family of toxins produced by certain fungi that are found on agricultural crops such as groundnut).
“Over the years The Gambia has been suffering from low productivity because of erratic rainfall. All other sectors are affected by climate change but the sector that is mainly affected is agriculture,” he said.
He told The Chronicle that the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) has been working to find solutions to the problem of aflatoxin.
According to Sanyang, an alternative to groundnut as cash crop is cotton.
“It was doing well in the Upper River Region and it was exported to France. Cotton needs a lot of input especially fertilizer and agro-chemical. If all these are put in place and the market is available, it can do well.”