The Gambia's efforts towards attaining the Millennium Development Goals and the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper objectives have so far produced mixed results.
The country made a modest achievement of only 3% from 2003 to 2008 in reducing overall poverty. Unemployment, particularly among the youths, and the quality of social services remain a great challenge to development and poverty reduction efforts.
The biggest challenge lies with income poverty and food security, for which agriculture is the only solution for a greater proportion of the population, said Alieu Ngum, chairman of the National Planning Commission (NPC) at a just concluded two-day donor roundtable conference on the Gambia National Agricultural Investment Programme (GNAIP) held at the Kairaba Beach Hotel in Senegambia.
The conference brought together development partners, potential institutions and stakeholders who are actively involved in agriculture to discuss the GNAIP to secure the required financial support for the implementation of the investment programme, estimated at $266 million for a period of five years, to revitalise the agricultural sector.
“Despite the challenges, the country achieved an annual average growth rate of 6% from 2003 to 2008 above the 5.5% target in the PRSP," Mr Ngum also said. "Considerable progress has been made in the social sectors such as high level of enrolment at primary education - more girls than boys at the primary levels, 85% of population has access to water supply and some positive achievements in infant mortality.
"Cognizant of the important role agriculture has in enhancing economic growth and poverty, the Government of The Gambia did not hesitate to respond to the AU/NEPAD formulated CAADP by developing a well elaborated national programme for agricultural growth and investment to reduce poverty in the country.”
Despite the rebound in agricultural output, growth in real GDP is projected at 3.6 per cent in 2009 reflecting reduced foreign direct investment, tourism and remittance flows.
In Africa increased agricultural growth will play a key role in addressing the current food crisis, in contributing to overall economic growth and in helping to achieve the MDG1of halving the proportion of the poor and hungry people by 2015, the Minister of Trade, Industry and Employment said while delivering his speech on the occasion.
Hon. Yusupha Kah, the newly appointed Trade Minister, said the challenge of meeting the MDG1 under the current circumstances is “considerable”, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
He expatiated: “Investing in agriculture is the key to reducing poverty and hunger in developing countries like The Gambia and it’s an essential element in addressing the current food crisis. Importantly, investing in agriculture also means investing in the rural population to enhance the human capital foundations of development.”
Modernizing agriculture is crucial to development, industrialization and food security in Africa and it also supports sustained poverty reduction and integration of Africa into the global economy.
Hon. Kah described agriculture as the “beacon of hope in Africa”, saying the sector provides 25 to 30% of Africa’s gross domestic income in rural areas.
"In The Gambia, the agricultural sector employs over 70% of the population and contributes about 26% of the GDP," the Trade Minister said. "This indicates that agriculture remains the backbone of our economy, and should in no way be left behind in the national agenda."
The importance of the agricultural sector in reducing poverty and serving as an engine of growth was demonstrated throughout the green revolution in Asia, particularly in India and China. Africa therefore cannot bypass this development pathway, as the majority of the African population lives in the rural areas. Despite this reality, the agricultural sector in Africa continues to be neglected. The ECOWAP/CAADP programme, however, has been designed to address agriculture as a priority for development.