- Angry peanut farmers in The Gambia were relieved in October, when they finally received what amounted to more than US$ 1.5 million they were owed for up to a year. Many farmers however fear the future, and another season of late payments could see many more leave the insecure peanut business; The Gambia's main export earner.
"My son had to drop out of school because I could not pay the fees on time," Sulayman Dahaba, a farmer in the Basse administrative division far east in the country's far east told the UN media 'IRIN' on Wednesday.
He said that if payments were late again next season he and other peanut farmers would have to find other sources of income. "We will give up producing the cash crop [peanuts] and turn instead to subsistence farming [rice, millet and corn]."
In the wake of government policies, first to nationalise then privatise the peanut industry, production of what had been the country's main export earner in the 1980s has dropped from over 100,000 tonnes a year to just 24,000 tonnes this year.
In an attempt to revive the industry, the Banjul government and private peanut buying agents last year announced that farmers would all get cash for their produce. At the beginning of the buying season local committees set up centres for agents and farmers to meet, weighed the peanuts and exchanged them for cash, but the buyers soon ran out of money.
Two of the peanut buyers - the Gambia Groundnut Corporation (GGC) and the Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Societies (FACS) - blamed the Gambia Agricultural Marking Company (GAMCO), the company that the government gave priority to in buying the peanuts.
GAMCO said it could not secure loans from any of the country's banks; it owed debts of up to 90 million dalasi (US$ 3.4 million). Without the cash, buyers resorted to promissory notes totaling 40 million dalasi (US$ 1.5 million) which amounted to 4,685 tons of nuts, the government said in April.
The roughly 100 farmers concerned said they had been cheated and had no choice but to accept deferred payment. "After many months we still didn't receive the money" one farmer, Babou Jeng, said.
Ahead of the September presidential elections opposition candidates seized on the issue saying the government was not doing enough to support Gambian exports.
In May, the Secretary of State for Agriculture Yankuba Touray announced that the government had sent two secretaries of state abroad for the purpose of finding the money to pay the peanut farmers.
The money was never found.
It was only when the buyers received payment from the international companies they had sold to that they started distributing the money to the farmers at the end of September, just two months before the next buying season.
The Secretary of State for Agriculture held the government could not be blamed for the problem. "Any lack of payment is not the responsibility of government; the government role is just to create the right environment," Mr Touray said
The managing director of GAMCO, Kabba Jallow, who had been the head of government peanut marketing board when the industry was nationalised, told 'IRIN' that the farmers should not complain when their payments are delayed. "If they are not paid, they should just stop growing more nuts," he said.
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