How costly food commodities becomes a decider in the up-coming presidential race

Dec 2, 2021 9:07 AM | Article By: Adama Camara

Basic commodities displayed at the Serekunda market

The average Gambian survives from hand to mouth due to poor salaries and wages they receive at the end of every working month. This is not commensurable with the frustrating market realities as the price of the most basic food commodities keep rising exorbitantly and frequently. Affordability of such items have become one of the crucial factors to decide the upcoming presidential election to be held on December 4, just a few days away.

Muhammad Camara, a father of six told MAJaC News that all the income he earns is spent on feeding. He said the high cost of feeding affects his allocations for other needed areas such as taking care of the health and education of his family.

“Even taking my children to hospital when they are sick is a problem because my earnings stop at feeding my family.”

The December election is timely for Muhammed, just like it is for other Gambians. He vowed to use his marble wisely for a candidate he believes would turn things around in the market. For him, candidates who share a practical agenda for an increased food production thereby reducing high dependency on expensive imported food items will get his vote.

A housewife, Fatou Bojang, said the price hike of food items has created nutritional shortages, as most people could not afford the practice of a balanced diet anymore. According to her, D150 is no longer enough to buy a good fish from the market.

“I might not even vote in this coming election because an empty bag cannot stand. I cannot go to the polls while I’m hungry. If this is not addressed, I might end up begging to feed my family because my husband is sick and I cannot even afford three square meals a day.”

Fatou blamed the business people for the frequent increase in price of food items, stating that, it is now common to find an increment on a particular item just within a few days.  

For Mariama Jatta, a consumer, she blamed the politicians for not prioritizing the market condition that is affecting the whole nation, rather, waging personal attacks against one another on political platforms. She described livelihoods as very difficult in the current situation.

“Help me to get rich while we remain poor is what politicians are vying for but not to address our needs.”  

Irish potato and other basic goods on sale at SereKunda market

A recent price finding conducted by this platform as of December 2 has shown that a bag of rice costs D1, 500, a bag of sugar is D1,700, a bag of onion is D650, locust beans (neteto) is now 10 dalasis, and a cube of jumbo is now D2.50.

During the lockdown period necessitated by COVID-19 last year, the Ministry of Trade has issued a statement setting the prices of basic commodities, a decision which also threatened to penalize business people who are engaged in hoarding.

However, the market is no longer adhering to such proclamations even when the government never came to lift the order.

Mamad Salieu, stall owner at Serekunda market selling various foods, blamed the high cost of commodities on the prices they also bought at, as well as the expenditures they incur from transportation and taxes. He said their primary objective is to make profit.

He has challenged the winner of the upcoming election to reduce the high taxes imposed on businesses which he believes would lead to ease in pricing of commodities, especially food items.

What promises are candidates making about it?

2021 Presidential Candidates,   PC: IEC Archives

Essa Faal, an independent candidate, published his manifesto last month, outlining his plans to ensure food security in the country. He promised to create a thriving sector for the increased production of large and diversified food baskets that will also guarantee a sustainable employment in 10 years.  

“Improved efficiency in food production and processing, and a huge reduction in food waste in the first 3 years of my government,” Faal's manifesto stated.

Faal believes that Gambians will find a sustainable balance in market price of basic food items when such commodities are produced in the country rather than relying on importation.

The United Democratic Party (UDP), the perceived main challenger of the incumbent, has also outlined their manifesto in a 5-point agenda. UDP has promised its commitment to eradicate child malnutrition, guarantee food security for the entire population by motivating farmers.

“So, they will stay on the farm because if you look at the farming community is dwindling, we are having more people and fewer farmers. So where do you get food? You import it at the expense of a huge amount of foreign exchange,” Lamin Manneh, who is a leading figure in drafting of the party’s agenda, told The Standard.

“We want to revert it. Import substitution, produce the food here and keep the foreign exchange, and at the end, sell part of that food and earn foreign exchange. That is the way forward for the Gambia,” Manneh added.

Meanwhile, Halifa Sallah, the leader of the People's Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) has promised to create cooperative sector that will accumulate cooperative finances to support family farms, create small scale processing of grains, nuts fruits and vegetables as part of the plan to eradicate poverty and creating balance in the market by also encouraging women producers and vendors.

“They live in poverty, grow in poverty, age in poverty, and die in poverty. That is what we wish to end. How? By using your wealth. Twenty-three billion [dalasi] is your budget this coming year (2022). The ocean is here. Others are exploiting it,” he said.

In the party’s transformative agenda, PDOIS also promised to increase the individual income and community income to rise proportionately to facilitate availability and affordability of food.

One of the newest political parties contesting the election is the National Unity party (NUP) led by Abdoulie Ebrima Jammeh, former Director General at the Gambia Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA). During his nomination, he told journalists that his first task, if elected president would be stabilizing the economy, the impact of which will regularize the market turbulent. “We need to rebalance our economy when we are elected. This is an immediately priority,” Jammeh said.

Like other candidates, Jammeh’s manifesto has promised Gambians a better coordination and implementation of agricultural policies to ensure economic growth and reduce poverty in the country.

The incumbent Adama Barrow, also the leader of the National People’s Party has consistently blamed the high cost of commodities on the global market system, which is suffering from the wreck of COVID-19. However, he has promised to provide support to local farmers to increase productivity of food items such as rice and other agricultural products.

At a campaign meeting held in Jarrol, Foni, last week, Barrow promised to execute a plan worth of over $175 million investment plan in the field of Agriculture. According to him, there is US$80 million plan for rice production, US$28 million for storage, US$27 million on rearing of goats and sheep and another additional US$40 million coming into the agriculture sector”.

The Gambia Democratic Congress has provided in their manifesto that they will put a sound economic policy in Agriculture, Tourism and Fisheries Development.

Expert view


Nyang Njie, Gambian economist, PC-TFN

An economist, Nyang Njie, said high cost of living is attributed to high inflation that makes people's purchasing power less. He said it could also be attributed to higher unemployment, which makes people not being able to make an income to feed themselves.

To tackle the problem, Njie suggested that the government should reduce taxation imposed on imports like flour which is a buy-product of bread.

“Most of the vegetables that Gambians eat are imported. So it's high time to grow these vegetables in the country, thereby making it cheaper and accessible to all Gambians,” he said.

He said Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs should work closely with the Ministry of Trade and the Ministry of  Agriculture to find ways and means of making food available and accessible, especially to the poor

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