On Road to Mechanized Agriculture: Where are we? 

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On Road to Mechanized Agriculture: Where are we? 

It is almost a year since the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the African Union (AU) launched a ‘new’ framework document that aim to increase agricultural efficiency, reduce hard ‘donkey’ labour by helping countries in Africa to develop strategies for sustainable farm mechanisation.

The project, entitled Sustainable Agricultural Mechanization ‘’SAMA’’ is the fruit of policy makers from member countries and development partners.

According to reports monitored Thru the wires, the program offers a detailed look at the history of machinery in Africa, pointing the way towards addressing challenges, and create new opportunities to assure the successful adoption of mechanization.

“Doubling agricultural productivity and eliminating hunger and malnutrition in Africa by 2025 will be no more than a mirage unless mechanization is accorded utmost importance,” AU Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, Josefa Sacko, warned continental policymakers and rulers.

In the Gambia, finance ministry owned figures has shown a stark contrast to government efforts and rhetoric on mechanisation.  It shows that the country spent some seventy-four million dollars ($74) on rice imports in 2017 alone, causing immeasurable stress on external reserves, even more added pressure on the stability and fluctuations of the dalasi currency.

Remarkably more than ninety-eight percent (98%) of farmers in The Gambia prepare their lands using only hand tools, a practice that entails poor productivity, repels youth from the profession – incompatible with the continent’s Zero Hunger goal.

“Farmers in Africa should be able to use modern agricultural technology, both digital and mechanical, to boost the agricultural sector in a sustainable way,” said FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo. Under the dynamic leadership of Paul Kagame, Rwanda recently entered into a smart agriculture venture with South Korea, laden with new-technological farming methods to make farming, simpler, easier, attractive – importantly, boosting all-year-round production capability.

Agriculture in The Gambia will not be successful unless mechanization strategies address key sustainability issues including gender, youth, environmental protection and the overarching principle that farming must be profitable. These strategies should cover the entire agri-food value chain, including harvesting, handling, processing and food safety aspects, with an eye to reduce food losses, boosting rural employment – and bolstering the links between farmers and consumers.

In Asia for instance, sixty percent (60%) of cultivated land is prepared using tractors, the corresponding figure for Sub-Saharan Africa is around 5 percent, even more depressing for Gambia, at one percent (1%) – almost all the work is done manually.

Today, more affordable machinery is available which the ministry should endeavour to provide to its farmers up and down the country. Land reform is a good starting point by designating purposely agriculture zones in large swats of the countryside for this and future generations. Requires visionary leadership – To make food security as a first order national priority!

So where are we

Rice and groundnut production respectively continue to register a downward spiral year on year under Jammeh, as well as the Barrow-led coalition government. That is not sustainable. Definitely unacceptable too for which I wish to register disquiet. Please, what are government’s yearly targets – two-year or five-year plan targets??? Admitting shortfalls inwardly and publicly is a good starting point to redressing failure. Consistency is important – sustainability being the desired result!

What is to be done?

There are no two ways about it, Gambian agriculture and farmers need tractors if country is to fulfil the pledges made in the African Union’s Malabo Declaration and Agenda 2063. But it requires land reform, the reorganisation of the farm system architecture – land reform in China offer clues. The country’s agriculture sector must innovate exploit mobile technologies. It should not be government-driven – But private-sector led – environmentally smart – affordable and friendly to smallholder farmers. Government will involve inasmuch as set the right policies and architectural practicalities to help local farmers succeed – if The Gambia is ever to advance and thrive.

Gibril Saine

Stratford, London.

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