By Yankuba Jallow
GAF’s public relations officer, Major Lamin K. Sanyang said they are still firm in their pursuit of implementing their first-ever large scale agricultural production in their history.
“Yes, the plan by the Gambia Armed Forces to venture into agriculture in partnership with AGCO is still active,” Major Sanyang said.
It has been over 300 days since GAF disclosed their intention to venture in large scale agriculture. The military outfit on the 13th day of May 2019 unveiled that they have been allocated fifty thousand (50,000) hectares of farmland in the CRR to implement their agricultural project.
Major Sanyang said they have made a lot of progress on their biggest agricultural project since last year.
“As we speak, we hope that if all goes as planned, we will deploy our personnel into rice production this year, God willing,” the military spokesperson told Foroyaa.
Here is the verbatim interview between Foroyaa and Major Sanyang.
• Is your partnership with AGCO to embark on large scale agriculture alive?
Yes, the plan by the Gambia Armed Forces to venture into agriculture in partnership with AGCO is still active. In addition, since the announcement of our plans, GAF has had constructive engagements with the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Lands and the governor of the CRR to acquire the lands that are not used for farming by the communities in CRR North and South.
• Have you done farming last year as anticipated?
No, we did not embark on any farming activities last year. This is not a small venture so what we have been doing since last year was to engage these stakeholders and the communities and farm owners in a bid to inform them about our plans to venture into agriculture in the CRR North and South. We have also been working with these communities to acquire the requisite acreage of land for the project. We discussed with them several issues such as ownership of the land, benefits for the community in terms of youth employment, corporate social responsibilities and so on. The Gambia Armed Forces wants to encourage community involvement and ownership of the project because that is the only way we can succeed and enhance civil-military relations. We have made a lot of progress since last year since we obtained approval from His Excellency the President and Commander-In-Chief to work with these partners; Gambians in general also gave us their approval to venture into agriculture to feed ourselves and the nation. It may be gratifying to state that we have had an overwhelming amount of reception from the communities visited and engaged who have wholeheartedly agreed to give us some of their unused farms.
• What was the problem?
There was no problem except that we were making sure that we involved all the relevant stakeholders so that once the project takes off, there would be little or no hitches in terms of challenges in implementation.
• How about this year, is it possible?
We have made a lot of progress and as we speak, we hope that if all goes as planned, we will deploy our personnel into rice production this year, God willing.
• What do you think need to be done to help you in this course?
We have involved and have had several constructive meetings with the officials from the Ministries of Agriculture and Lands since last year. In fact the Ministry of Agriculture provided some inputs when we were developing our concept paper which we have now also shared with them for their expert review and invaluable inputs. We would continue engaging them because we know that these ministries have the requisite expertise when it comes to agriculture and land use in The Gambia. We are happy and would like to thank them immensely for their support because they have been very instrumental in the progress we have made so far.
• What about the dream of establishing a military hospital?
Of course the GAF is still hopeful that with the requisite support from partners (we are already collaborating with government through the Ministry of Health), we can establish and operate a military hospital. It may be instructive to state that it is probably only in The Gambia that there is no military hospital. We have the requisite personnel and expertise and in fact, our officers and personnel who are part of our Medical Corp are at the heart of the fight against COVID 19. The knowledge they will gather from this episode would be very useful in this drive; so yes, the Command is still pursuing this dream of establishing a military hospital in The Gambia. Presently, our medical facilities in our various Battalions are being handled by our own qualified medical doctors and nurses who are all members of GAF. Interestingly, over 70% of the patients treated at these health facilities are civilians living in and around our Battalion. We are happy to attend to them because it is through engagements like these that we are able to also enhance civil-military relations.
• How much is spent on feeding the army annually? Last year you told us about 48 million dalasis.
Yes, we still spend D48million or more on rice alone to feed our troops on essential duties. These are officers and soldiers that are posted on guard duties, conducting patrols and others doing essential work in offices and government installations. So, you can see that if we ventured into agriculture we could save the government a lot of money that could be used to enhance our mobility, accommodation and so on.
• Back to the project, how about the area of lands allocated to you for farming, do you still have them?
Yes, we have engaged the communities where we have identified these lands in CRR North and South on the allocation and use of the lands for agriculture. So, yes, we still have the lands with us; and most of them are lands that have not been used by their owners or communities for farming.
• Don’t you think the Government should support you in the implementation of the project?
The Gambia Armed Forces cannot embark on any venture of this magnitude without the approval of the government and people of The Gambia through His Excellency the President and Commander-In-Chief and the National Assembly. Therefore, following the meeting between AGCO and His Excellency President Adama Barrow at the State House in 2018, he had given the Gambia Armed Forces his support as well as the government’s unequivocal approval and support to work with AGCO or any other partners toward the implementation of the agriculture project as enshrined in the constitution. Since 2018, we have been working very closely with officials from the Ministries of Agriculture who gave us some inputs when we were developing the concept note. We had also engaged the Ministry of Lands, Finance and Defence by sharing the concept paper and also to ensure implementation of this project and I am happy to state that a lot of progress has been made.
Let me state that we have not gone into any negotiations or contractual agreement with AGCO or any other partners yet. Any such negotiations with the partners or contractual arrangement for that matter would involve all the relevant stakeholders like the Ministries of Agriculture, Land, Finance, Defence and the wider Gambian community.
• What has changed or been added in the project idea? For example, you said you are going to use a whole battalion in the project, will civilians be hired, etc. etc?
The only thing that has changed could be that we have become more resolute in our commitment to embark on this agriculture project. So as we speak, the partners are fully engaged and prepared to work with us once we have put in place all the modalities in terms of the land, personnel and so on.