By: Basidia M Drammeh
Since the Gambian leader President Adama Barrow named his Cabinet in early May, the position of trade minister has remained vacant. Seedy Keita, the former occupant of the post, who was promoted to the much-coveted finance portfolio in the Cabinet reshuffle, has been assigned by the President to oversee the Trade Ministry until his replacement is found. Mr. Keita has been sharply criticized for doing too little as Trade Minister, with the prices uncontrollably going through the roof under his watchful eye with little or no action. Critics argue that Minister Keita, considering his long service overseas as an economist, is detached from the realities on the ground; hence he’s overly aloof to the plight of the disadvantaged members of the society,
With ongoing skyrocketing prices of basic commodities and the looming hunger facing the Gambia amid a severe global food crisis, questions are being raised as to why the President has taken so long to fill the vacancy. The prices are expected to rise further due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, which, along with Russia, accounts for nearly one-third of global wheat supplies. Additionally, the Government has been persistently reluctant to take any price-control measures citing the country’s liberal market system.
Agriculture, which is the backbone of Gambia’s economy, accounting for about 17.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), is set to suffer a significant setback this year. Farmers have decried the exorbitant fertilizer prices, which have jumped from 700-dalasi last year to 2,500 dalasi per bag, despite being subsidized by the Government, raising fears that the majority of the poor farmers would not afford such an exorbitant cost.
Farmers in Thailand and India, which supply half of the Middle East and Africa’s imported rice, import fertilizer from Russia and Ukraine; hence rice production is expected to decline drastically. In a report issued in 2018, the African Development Bank disclosed that while the Gambia earned USD80m from Tourism in 2017, it spent USD 74m in rice imports in the same year to meet the deficit. The Gambia reportedly imports up to 175,000 tonnes of rice annually or approximately 70 percent of its rice needs.
In the face of this crisis, it beloves of the President to appoint a new minister for trade. The minister’s immediate mandate should include drawing up short and long term measures to curb prices, in conjunction with the relevant stakeholders. He/she ought to reach out to the concerned ministers such as Agriculture and Finance, in order to mitigate an imminent crisis that could engulf the country with far-reaching consequences.