Experts have urged The Gambia to use seeds instead of grains for rice production in order to meet its rice self-sufficiency target as a nation.
This was contained in a study titled “The road to rice self-sufficiency” conducted by AfricaRice, a leading pan-African rice research organization. According to the report, The Gambia possesses the necessary agro-ecologies and natural assets (land, water and labor) which can potentially be deployed in driving its rice self-sufficiency (RSS) goal.
The National Rice Development Strategy (NRDS) projected that The Gambia would attain RSS by 2024. However, the report showed that productivity had remained very low, fluctuating at between 1.19 tons/ha in 2010 and 0.85 ton/ha in 2017 thus exacerbating the yawning gap in local supply of rice. This has continued to impact negatively on the foreign reserves much of which is channeled towards rice imports, according to the report.
The researchers suggested that it was necessary for the government to chart another trajectory to achieving RSS, hence reducing the Gambia’s dependence on imports of the grain. This “necessitates a significant boost in productivity and production through the introduction of improved agricultural technologies, reduction in post-harvest losses, intensified value addition, primary and large-scale processing, reducing transaction costs and creating an enabling environment for private sector players at all segments of the rice value chain, and improving smallholder farmers’ competitiveness.”
The lead researcher and the coordinator of the Support System for Accelerating Rice Self-Sufficiency in Africa, Marcel Walpzie has called for investment in seeds.
“Seeds systems in our countries need to be supervised and be verified so as to ensure what is provided to the farmer is certified seeds, because a lot of the time it is not.”
The road to rice self-sufficiency study was conducted to provide credible information for policy and investment decision-making for the development of the Gambia’s rice sector. It was funded by the Ministry of Agriculture and the African Development Bank’s Project Preparatory Facility (PPF) project.
Receiving the report, the Minister of Agriculture Amie Fabureh said while The Gambia earns $80 million from Tourism in 2017, it spent $74 million the same year on rice importation.
“This indicates that increase in rice production will not only ensure food security but will also go a long way in ensuring macroeconomic stability, including stability of the national currency.”
With rice as the national staple food, records have it that on average every Gambian consumes 117kg per annum, far above the world average of 56.9kg per annum.
“However, while we consume that much rice, our national rice production is just about 17% of our needs, leaving us to import more than 80% of our rice needs,” Ms. Fabureh said.
The dependency on imports to meet the national rice deficit continues to predispose the food security situation in The Gambia to the vulnerability of volatile global market trends, as well as deplete the foreign exchange reserves.
With observed trends in the decline of rice production in the country over the past years, the minister urged all stakeholders, both private and public to make concerted efforts to solve the Gambia’s rice needs.