Andy, thank you for pointing out this very important issue regarding the production of basic foods like rice, onions, or vegetables in The Gambia. The health of any country determines its future sustainability and productivity as far as Human Resources are concerned. The future of The Gambia lies on healthy population which can only be achieved through healthy food consumption and better public health system in the country. The idea of lifting tariffs on basic food items is indeed not a brilliant idea at the moment because it has serious consequences on the health and productivity of citizenry in the short and long term. The continuous importation of rice which is a staple food for country will lead to poor quality and lack of nutritious rice consumption in the country. Already most Gambians have been consuming less quality rice which are imported by foreign investors. Some of these foreign investors are only interested in maximising profit. The Gambia food safety and Quality Authority does not seem to be playing its proper roles in protecting of citizenry against imported and domestic toxic food consumption. Lack of the necessary technological, scientific and Human Resource capabilities in food science and regulations hamper this food regulatory body. The Gambian people are not educated about the nutritional values of the imported and domestically produced foods as evidenced by the food regulatory body’s failure to recommend or encourage the use of healthy nutrition labels. There is no standard guidelines or laws which ensures nutritional labeling and education to promote safe and proper food consumption across the country. Hence, Gambian people depend on few ill-trained and uneducated food industry regulatory staff who lack sufficient scientific knowledge in food science and regulations. For instance, most Gambians are not aware of different types of oil for consumption or what is the best type of oil which has nutritional values that support or help protect people against cancer or heart disease. Vegetable oil which is very common in The Gambia is not the best type of oil for daily food consumption while the olive oil or canola oil which have better nutritional values for consumption are mostly not available or unaffordable by average Gambian. So Gambian people continue to consume high quantities of vegetable oil which could result to heart disease or other chronic conditions. There is need to have public education on this subject across the country as well as food labeling about nutritional content of the foods people consume in the country. This can also be achieved through education at basic or higher levels.
The implications of foods has serious consequences on our people’s health and economy of our country. These imported foods do not usually meet the nutritional standard requirements that consumers demand in their home country and they are imported into our country to contribute to numerous health problems. Today, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancers and other chronic diseases are common in The Gambia due to lack of local produce foods which have high or better nutritional values for healthy growth, development and protection of human body. The health care cost of these chronic diseases are skyrocketing which has serious impact on our economy and productivity. The importation of these basic food items discourages the population not to take farming as the most important productive base of our economy, which also contributes to high unemployment rain the country. High Unemployment is a serious economic problem which in turn lead to increase in poverty, crimes and dependency. Hence productivity of the economy is seriously impacted as far as production of agricultural foods are concerned. Food importation also discourages our people to prioritize home produce foods in their daily consumption. Psychologically, people have become dependent on bad foods which are imported without proper regulations.
The way forward to solve this serious health and economic problems is to encourage people to produce local food for consumption. The idea of “grow what you eat” is a good idea. However, the man [Yahya Jammeh] who came up with that idea used Gambian people for his selfish interest. I think the new government should quickly prioritize agriculture and give incentives to businesses and local citizens to produce more food for the country. They should give tax breaks to businesses that engage in agricultural productivity. Large scale commercial farming should be encouraged and businesses which bring technological innovations and equipment should also be given tax incentives for creating jobs. When Gambian people have jobs they should be able to feed themselves and get back their lost pride rather than depend on their struggling diaspora members. This will curtail diaspora remittance dependency. Food safety and quality authority should also come up with standard guidelines or laws which ensure food labeling and education to promote safe and proper food consumption in the country. We are in the 21st century, we must act fast to catch up with the rest of the world otherwise our country will be a dumping ground for unscrupulous foreign investors.