Prospects for GSI Centre look promising

Currently, 23 young Gambians that graduated from Songhai Centre in Benin few months ago and 40 newly recruited young Gambians are at the Chamen Seed and Multiplication Centre, now Gambia Songhai Initiative (GSI) Centre in Chamen, North Bank Region, trying to replicate the success of the famous Songhai Centre in Benin, which is a model agricultural centre in the sub-region.

The Daily Observer visited the centre to get firsthand information about work at the centre, with a view to attract support and intervention from the general public.

On reaching the centre one cannot but be amazed by the amount of progress made; from the garden where one will see fresh and healthy tomatoes, okra, sweet corn, onion and pepper; the seed multiplication site; cash crop farms; to the ongoing construction of poultry building among others. Prospects at the centre indeed look promising.

The concept of the Gambian-Songhai Initiative was conceived thanks to the partnership of UNDP.

With the amount of enthusiasm and interest demonstrated by the 23 trainers who graduated from Songhai Centre in Benin and the 40 young Gambian recruits and 5 experts, it is safe to say that within three months the centre would make tremendous achievements.

Speaking at the ground, the minister of Youth and Sports, Alieu K Jammeh, described the team at the centre as very knowledgeable in what they are doing; committed and dedicated.

He thanked the government, development partners, particularly the UNDP, who are sponsoring the initial phase of the project. He thus expressed delight over the great achievements registered at the centre within this short period of time. “The produce here is 100% organic and with what is happening here, agriculture has a future,” he affirmed.

With young people making up the highest chunk of the population, the Youth minister reaffirmed that the government is not relenting in creating more job opportunities for them, citing the GSI centre as one of those initiatives taken by the government towards that direction.

“Our priority is to get young people meaningfully engaged and agriculture being the biggest sector of our economy we are convinced that it can consume the biggest number of our youth and that is why we are working very hard here (Chamen) to get the sector attractive to the youth. I have no doubt that this will be realised,” he remarked.

Taking the Daily Observer on a conducted tour of the farms, Audu Makpa, the administration officer at the Centre and a Nigerian, who works in Songhai Centre in Port Novo, Benin, said: “The Gambia Songhai Initiative is the main hub, and what we have here is an integrated farming system. Whatever you see here is natural, pure and in our integration farming system, we preach only organic production because we talk about the ecosystem, and environment.”

He said their main point here is to create an enabling environment for the populace and to establish a Green Rural City, which Songhai is all about. “We are in The Gambia working hard to change the mindset of Gambians in terms of agriculture,” he noted.

According to Audu, one does not need millions to start agricultural production, saying the African continent has no reason to import food, with the availability of the climate, soil and all it takes to cultivate what it wants.

In The Gambia, he stated, they could attest to the efforts of President Jammeh, as he invests so much in agriculture. “I was at Kanilai and I saw what was and still happening there. I was so impressed because I don’t think there is any African leader that has such programme in Africa because he (President Jammeh) encourages and makes you participate”.

The administration officer at the Centre informed that the Songhai Centre is into organic production and a new method of farming, and that in Songhai, nothing is a waste. The centre, he added, also provides trainings for entrepreneurs who can in turn go out to have their farm and in addition empower other young people.

The recruits at the centre, he explained, went through a process before they were admitted, describing them as committed and ready to leave a mark at the centre. “So the areas they will undergo training are: agro-forestry, market, crop production, cash crop, animal production, and theoretical aspect of poultry pending the completion of the construction work on the poultry.

For her part, Awa Barrow from KMC, a recruit at the centre, affirmed that the GSI aims to help improve the country’s economy and to empower young Gambians. She informed that she specialises in market garden. “After completing my six months training, I will develop my own plan or even have my own farm to employ other young people”.

Alpha Dem, from Lower River Region, is undergoing training in animal production and would like to go back to his region to establish his animal husbandry in order to help advance the development of the country.

Sainey Sillah from Banjul is one of those graduates from Benin Centre currently serving as an instructor at the Chamen Centre. He thanked UNDP and the Ministry of Youth and Sports for giving the young people the opportunity to go for six months intensive training in Benin.

“We are well equipped to replicate the success registered in the Songhai in The Gambia. We are working together here and we hope to bring about the needed changes. I specialised in market garden and aquaculture during my training in Benin,” he disclosed.

Kumba Ceesay, who specialised in brawlers and small ruminants said she had learnt a lot during the training in Benin, while hoping the centre would help to complement the President’s efforts to have the country ‘grow what they eat and eat what they grow.’

Another graduate from Benin, Elody Mendy, who is in charge of seed multiplication, explained that there were different kinds of beans, sorghum, and sweet corn at the time of the visit. “Seed multiplication is the process of multiplying natural and high quality seeds,” she defined.

Fatou Njie, also a graduate from Benin, who was met harvesting fresh and healthy organic tomatoes ready for the market, used the interview to appeal for Gambians, hotels in particularly to purchase fresh and healthy produce from Chamen.

Speaking at the site where a construction of a poultry house is at an advanced stage, Mamadou Ly said the importation of eggs from neighbouring Senegal would stop once the poultry is ready. He assured that the Chamen poultry would provide quality eggs and chickens for Gambians.

As a youth, Ly lamented the attitude of young people, saying with agriculture, he is not going anywhere. “The money I am making in agriculture, I cannot make it even in Europe. I urge my brothers to stay and take part in agriculture to advance the development of Africa,” he advised.

Kebba Lang Camara, the head of general service at the Centre, said the total land area of the Centre is 1600 metres by 1600 metres equivalent to 256 hectares, thus making one of the biggest centres in the country. “Cowpea is 10 hectares, millet is 6.5 hectares, groundnut is 6.5 hectares, maize is 30 hectares, moringa is about over 1000 hectares, and we have 200 pawpaw plants,” he told Daily Observer during walk to the cash crop farmers.

It is clear from this experience that the idea of the President for Gambians to grow what they eat and eat what they grow is achievable.

A glance at the dormitories for the recruits, revealed hygienic state in which they are, something they commended the Ministry of Youth and Sports and UNDP for, as well as their motivation and encouragement.

In addition, the UNDP has also provided another brand new vehicle to the Chamen project in order to ease mobility in addition to the two earlier provided.