Provincial Rice Growers in The Gambia has outlined underlying factors that culminated to mark an end to the glorious days of subsistence bumper harvest.
Many years ago, these rice growers wouldn’t know the cost of a bag of imported rice due to heavy stocked from their harvest in stores. However, farmers are now producing less and less every year, while there are more mouths to feed.
The disastrous harvest is not only caused by natural factors like floods, but also inadequate farming tools and fertilizer, as man power deteriorates. Farmers on big rice production project fields of Jahally Pachar say poor management of the project is another factor to low production.
An emotionally nervous looking farmer who spoke to this reporter at the Jahally rice fields said:
“As I speak to you I am hungry and many are feeling the same. My harvest was finished in my store more than a month ago and I am hungry, my family is hungry.”
Situated in the Central River Region of The Gambia, on the south of the famous River Gambia, the Jahally rice fields are about 1000 hectares of land, consisting 2, 000 demarcated plots. The project was established in 1983 and has been benefiting several local communities like Jahally, Brikamaba, Saruja, Wellingara etc.
According to the farmers, during the prime days of production, an average farmer could harvest over 100 bags of rice at the end of the 3 to 4 months seasons. The source of water supply in Jahally field was based on pumping machine that drew water from the nearby river.
However, few years ago, with the intervention of the Republic of Taiwan, the fields were turned into tidal irrigation, a system suitably design based on low or high tidal river waves, which is leading to inadequate water supply.
Although the method seems to be embraced by most people, one farmer said it is a contributing factor to the low harvest.
Sheriff Njie, the Field’s committee member who is responsible for overseeing the rice growing site said the tidal irrigation system is contributing to low gain, which causes hunger to the farmers.
“We harvested our rice not more than three months ago, but no single farmer is having any remainder of the harvest at home. It is all finished at home and this is the only hope for us.
“As I speak to you I am hungry and many are the same. My harvest finished more than a month and I am hungry, my family is hungry.
“I cultivate one hectare for subsistence purpose; I can’t sell, I would die of hunger. I cultivated one and a half plot. I got 21 bags of rice but everything is exhausted at home a month ago.”
The old man said the poor harvest is not only caused by the frequent floods, but many other factors including the tidal system, lack of needed machines and poor management by previous committee members. He blamed his predecessors for their lack of knowledge in rice cultivation with no sympathy for poor farmers. He added: “This is what is tormenting us.”
Njie said flooding is not the only factor, hence according to him rainfalls before were in a greater amount than recent, they used to harvest more than now.
“The causes have to do with the drainage system that is being currently used, unlike before when a special machine was stationed at the fields to remove excess water.
“The machine prevented the rice fields from flooding. The amount of rains before was more than now. We used to cultivate the field both in the dry and the rainy season with a fruitful outcome always.
“In those days, during the rainy season, a farmer used to get more than 80 bags after the harvest of just one plot. In the dry season, one could get over 100 bags of rice.
“I witnessed all that here and myself I worked and got it. The gains continued to reduce consistently.
“This is not caused by only excessive rain water but a water pumping machine is what is needed on the fields to withdraw water when it is in excess.”
He said the lack of farming machines at the fields such as tractors, vehicles, excavators, caterpillars and power tillers are another main contributing to the low harvest at Jahally rice field. According to him, their committee has no money in the account, which was responsible for the fields for ten years now.
He alleged that there were sponsorships coming from NGOs such as Action Aid, Farm Manager and many other projects, but that monies never reached them. “We don’t benefit from it, because it doesn’t reach us. This is why we could not have agriculture machines” said Njie.
He said the solution to the low harvest is for the government to support them with at least 40 tractors, 4 excavators to dig the canals to avoid water blockages and a water pumping machine to remove the excess waters from the fields.
A middle age waman Fatou Touray, of Fulladu Darsilammeh attributed the poor harvest to insufficient availability of fertilizer. She said many could not harvest 20 bags from a rice plot, last season.
“We are appealing to government to help us with ploughing machines and sufficient fertilizers so that we can embark on timely cultivation.
“We have a market, but what we harvest cannot be sold because nothing will remain for family consumption.
“Right now, there is no harvest remaining at home. We are buying the imported rice.”
According to Touray, she could remember the moments when her family wouldn’t buy the imported rice due to the availability of the locally-produced rice from one season to the other.
Sainey Jallow, another committee official responsible for water supply at the fields said, the recent farm destruction was caused by the broken-down of a perimeter dike by the run-off water.
He said the dike that was built around 1983, surrounded the fields as a protector that prevents run-off water from entering the fields, causing excess water supply.