Gambia: Developing irrigation for enhanced agricultural production in Gambia
Thursday, 08 Aug 2013
The Gambia’s anti-hunger campaign recently got a major boost following a renewed commitment by the number one farmer, the president of the Republic, His Excellency Sheikh Professor Dr. Yahya Jammeh during his recent ‘Dialogue with the People Tour’.
President Jammeh’s pronouncement that The Gambia, a small country in West Africa, will not import rice come 2016 has been highly embraced. In fact farmers across the country, most especially those in the provinces, have been spurred to increase production in their quest to meet the presidential declaration.
But this ambitious anti-poverty goal is not only a mere pronouncement, as the president intends to further develop agriculture, the mainstay of The Gambia’s economy, contributor of 32% of the Gross Domestic Product, and the provider of income for 80% of the population.
Given the fact that about 54% of the land area in The Gambia is good quality arable land, the president intends to introduce a countrywide irrigation system to boost production. In addition, he also pledged a staggering US$100M package for Gambian farmers; all meant to boost production and attain the country’s most yearned objective of food self-sufficiency whereby the entrenched dependency on imports will be a thing of the past.
Countrywide irrigation plan
Irrigation, particularly, the Tidal irrigation system is not expensive and can be used in areas where the soil is fertile. It takes advantage of the ocean tides to force river water onto fields.
Swampy areas along the section of The River Gambia located from 160 to 330 km from Banjul are suitable for growing approximately 50,000 tons of rice.
However, very little of that land is cultivated. Even though some work has already been done using tidal irrigation, however, the president deems it necessary to expand that scope and improve it. In one of his meetings, he spoke of his government’s plan to create a reliable and dependable irrigation system that would boost all-year-round agricultural productivity in The Gambia.
By developing this, expectations are that the objective for a total food independent nation is not a far-fetched dream. The president during his 2013 ‘Dialogue with the People Tour’ stated that before 2017, he wants to see the proliferation of rice fields in The Gambia to be cultivated in both the dry and rainy seasons.
He was however quick to suggest that women should manage their own rice fields likewise their male counterparts. He made it categorically clear in almost all the meetings that he will ban the importation of rice by 2016, because as he puts it, there is no reason why The Gambia should be importing rice when our land is very fertile. "We have fertile land and we are going to put irrigation systems all over the country. You will buy rice from The Gambia itself but not from outside," he was quoted as saying in one of the meetings.
These objectives are attainable taking into account the previous projects. Statistics have indicated that between 1991 and 1996, the Small Scale Water Control Project (SSWCP), financed by the International Fund for Agriculture Development, developed 482 hectares of tidally irrigated land in The Gambia. But the area is small and some of the land can produce only one rice crop per year. Other irrigation projects, which ended in the same year, were the Jahally &Pacharr Smallholders Project (JPSP), funded by the African Development Bank and the World Bank, and the Rice Development Project (IRDEP), financed by the African Development Bank.
The JPSP developed 849 hectares of tidally irrigated land and 560 hectares of pump-irrigated land, but the 242.6 hectares developed by the IRDEP are all pump-irrigated. Also a 20-year project on Lowland Agricultural Development Project (LADEP), which is being funded by the International Fund for Agriculture Development and the African Development Bank, began in 1997 with its goal to develop 3,735 hectares of land during the first eight-year stage, following which an assessment of whether to continue to the next stage will be conducted.
The technical mission has already performed careful surveys to that effect and made topographical maps of potential rice-growing areas that can be used to determine the feasibility of tidal irrigation in specific areas. Results of evaluations made by the technical mission indicate that the areas where tidal irrigation is feasible include Wassu, Kuntaur, Tubakuta, Sukuta and Barajali on the north bank, and Sapu, Willingara, and Yidda, among others on the south bank. Where Tidal irrigation is feasible
The three potential rice-growing areas differ considerably in ecological conditions and requirements for production. In the relatively upland areas, pumps can be used for irrigation. In the low-lying marshy areas, tidal flows can be employed for irrigation purposes. In the dry land areas, where it is expensive to pump water for irrigation, the farmers depend on natural rainfall. Unfortunately, inadequate rainfall can lead to drought and a poor harvest.
Expected benefits Achievements of the irrigation projects over the last three decades are limited; however with the president’s intervention and declaration for a countrywide irrigation, positive results are highly anticipated. It is indeed very correct to suggest that if all these pledges materialise, The Gambia will soon become a food self-sufficient nation that will depend on home-grown produce for both consumption and export. This means, more people will jump out of poverty, income of producers will increase and the country’s economy will be boosted.