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January 04, 2010

Gambian farmers protest low groundnut prices

by James Jammeh

As the 2009/10 Groundnut Season progresses in Gambia,farmers have been  complaining about the price on offer this year. They are appealing to government for an adjustment, failure of which they threatened to sell their hard earned products in neighboring Senegal, where buyers are reported to be making a far better appeal for farmers in the region.

According to some of the farmers who spoke to this paper, the price being offered this year by the Gambian buyers makes the product far less promising than usual, considering the expenditures they incurred in the process of cultivation.

Musa Jallow, a farmer from the North Bank Region, said to this reporter that the D8,500.00  per ton, being offered is not enough as they realized massive spending during the cultivation season. ''If government really want to improve the living conditions of farmers,'' he said, ''they would rather come with a price better than what they have announced.''

For Amadou Bah, the price announced by the government portrays a far less serious government than they are trying to make themselves look like. The farmer from the North Bank Region town of Farafenni said that promoting the welfare of farmers means fighting poverty in the country, as almost all Gambian farmers have the education need of their children to take care of, in addition to the feeding needs of their families. He called on the government in general and the ministry of Agriculture in particular to consider their plights as farmers, saying that all they have had to put up with since the advent of the AFPRC/APRC government has been hardship upon hardship. 

At the extreme end of the country in Basse, Ebrima Manneh of Basse Manneh Kunda challenged President Yahya Jammeh, who doubles as the Agriculture minister, to intervene and address their plight as farmers. Manneh stressed that if there can be any meaningful development, farmers must be at the fore front.

And in Lower-Saloum, Sait Cham charged that farmers are not considered by the government, singling out President Jammeh as especially responsible for the situation. He accused the Gambian leader of only promoting his own farming activities despite openly claiming to being friends to farmers.

Cham said that what the president has achieved in just a short period in farming, the entire farming community in the country haven't been able to do, yet they have been in this for their entire lives without any progress. 

"In fact, the past government did far better in promoting the welfare of farmers than this government,'' Cham said, concluding with a plea to the president, nonetheless, urging him to ''redouble his efforts" and divert a little bit of attention from Kanilai and the rest of his many other politically influenced farms so that ordinary Gambian farmers can make better out of their sweat. 

Biran Saine condemned the Gambian authorities for their selfishness, arguing that in neighboring Senegal the government is paying well for groundnut. Saine described the price being offered in Gambia as an insult, saying that he would rather sell his products in Senegal regardless of the consequences.

Muatapha Lowe, Fallou Njie, Amat Ceesay, Juldeh Jawo, and Kebba Camara, all echoed similar sentiments, calling on the Gambian government to demonstrate more respect for farmers and accelerate their effort in promoting their welfare by avoiding unnecessary spending.

The farmers pointed to the president's endless donations to individuals as largely unnecessary, saying that some of these monies could better be used to help boost the morale of farmers.

A senior officer at the Agriculture department appeared to support claims by the farmers, saying that the government is capable of doing more to ameliorate the plight of farmers. While a number of other countries in the sub-region appear to be doing well for their farmers, the official said, the Gambia government focuses on far less significant issues. He too appeared condemnatory of the president's defiant decision of running the Agriculture ministry, despite there being very many people far more knowledgeable than the president who has absolutely no known certificate in Agriculture that qualifies him to run a ministry, other than the high school certificate he claimed to have.

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