To Please A Lady!

One of my readers recently commented that she would have liked to see more photographs, so as a change from writing a blog post this weekend I have instead set up a photo gallery. Clicking on the  Picture Gallery link on the right of this column will open a page of thumbnail views.

To see a full size image or start a slideshow, just click on the thumbnail.

Kotu Butchery Project

This week saw the official handover of a new butchery complex at Kotu which has been set up with support from the Department of Agriculture as part of our LHDP (Livestock and Horticulture Development Project) and which is to be run by a group of local farmers. You may remember this ceremony has been postponed twice in the past, but finally on Tuesday we managed to get all the stakeholders together at the same time for the grand opening.

The sun shone (it always does!) and my colleague Alimou and I were on site by 8am to find the site deserted except for half a dozen ladies sitting on the steps, and no obvious signs of activity, although somebody had been busy the previous day as the pillars in front of the building were decked in the colours of the Gambian flag along with green and yellow ribbons, balloons, and a large ribbon across the central two pillars. The premises looked very smart and comprise six “stalls” selling beef, goat/sheep, and chicken, and in due course pig meat.

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The new Butchery, Kotu

The new Butchery, Kotu

The new Butchery, Kotu

The new Butchery, Kotu

Mr Alimou Jallow (Department of Agriculture Planner)

Mr Alimou Jallow (Department of Agriculture Planner)

Soon after 9am a young man arrived with amplifiers and loudspeakers in the back of a truck and began to set up a sound system from which (after the obligatory “hullo, hullo, hullo” sound check) we were loudly entertained by lively West African music as we began to put out rows of chairs under the awnings set around a square in front of the building. The guests had been invited to arrive between 10.00 and 11.00 for registration and slowly people began to drift in – mostly ladies, all very smartly dressed – although from the speed of their arrival it didn’t look as though anybody expected a prompt start. The butchery ladies donned their white coats and headdresses and began clapping to the music, swinging and swaying to the beat as if it were Saturday night at the dance hall, not 10.00 on a hot Tuesday morning. From time to time there was a loud bang as another balloon burst in the heat.

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Among the guests we were expecting the Minister of Agriculture, the Lord Mayor of Kanifing, the Governor of West Coast Region, the Alkalo of Kotu, the Imam, and various other civic heads together with representatives of some of the big hotels who we hoped would be sufficiently impressed by the project to place regular ongoing orders. The tourist season is more or less over now until about October, but if they could be persuaded to support the new business from the start then we could expect sales to increase as the hotels started to fill up again in a few months. Meanwhile the operation could grow slowly as the group running it became more confident and their skills increased.

In due course a smart 4×4 drew up and Mr Solomon Owens (the Minister of Agriculture) emerged complete with a rather large policeman, followed shortly afterwards by the Minister for Youth and Sport with his own police escort, and then finally, as if waiting for his cue, Mr Yankuba Colley, the newly re-elected Mayor of Kanifing, resplendent in a sharp white suit with matching trilby, along with another policeman and an immaculately coiffed young lady PA in a smart business suit. We could begin!

Mr Solomon Owens (Minister of Agriculture)

Mr Solomon Owens (Minister of Agriculture)

Mr Yankuba Colley (Lord Mayor of Kanifing)

Mr Yankuba Colley (Lord Mayor of Kanifing)

The Alkalo of Kotu

The Alkalo of Kotu

The Imam of Kotu leading prayers

The Imam of Kotu leading prayers

The ceremony was due to begin at 11am with prayers led by the Imam of Kotu, but of course this took place rather later than scheduled and was followed by a procession of speakers with musical interludes, or perhaps I should have said “interruptions”. In attendance was a group of drummers and singers who according to the programme were due to give two or three musical intervals. In fact, what frequently happened was that when one speech finished and the retiring speaker introduced the next one to the podium, the newcomer had to stand and wait as the musicians burst spontaneously into life at high volume and seemed intent on drowning out any attempts to stop them. To persuade them to desist each time, it was necessary for one of the principal guests (often Mayor Colley or one of his staff) to approach the band with a wad of banknotes and give out several handfuls. Unless they considered the donation sufficently generous, they continued playing, and at one point one of the drummers came out to harangue Mr Owens face to face, loudly, and at length, presumably because he felt they were not sufficiently appreciated. This behaviour didn’t seem to surprise anyone, but it’s the first time I’ve seen anybody pay for the band to stop, rather than to continue playing. The Mayor obviously had some of his supporters with him too as whenever his name was mentioned, which was quite frequently as each speaker in turn paused in their speech to congratulate him on his re-election, there was a burst of applause and cheering from the crowd, and a drum roll or a burst of flattering song from the musicians. The observance of protocol is very important here, and each speaker in turn individually recognised all the other dignitaries, finishing invariably with the phrase “all protocols duly observed” (I assume this was in case they had forgotten anyone) before beginning their speech.

Mr Ousman Jammeh, Director of Agriculture, West Coast Region (my boss)

Mr Ousman Jammeh, Director of Agriculture, West Coast Region (my boss)

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The President of Group Legay

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Mr Landing Sanyang (Project Director)

Mr Falalo Toure (Deputy Director General Department of Agriculture)

Mr Falalo Toure (Deputy Director General Department of Agriculture)

There were some excellent speeches and several of the speakers, apart from praising the new facilities emphasised that this was only the beginning. The premises and equipment have been provided at a cost of 2 million dalasi (about £40,000), a large number of members of Group Legay have been trained in meat hygiene and butchery skills, but now is when the hard work really begins as they must now build a sustainable and profitable business.

During the course of the speeches we also had two brief dance interludes when a group of local youths performed a mock wild animal hunt with their quarry elaborately dressed with large horns.

Finally, after refreshments had been served, it was time for the Minister of Agriculture to cut the ribbon and the Lord Mayor to hand over the keys to the Lady President of Group Legay, following which the guests toured the premises and numerous photographs were taken. The television crew were busy recording an interview with Mr Falalo Touré (Deputy Director General of Agriculture), the politicians moved on to their next engagement and the rest of us began to stack chairs and pick up litter.

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The official handover of the keys by Mayor Colley to Group Legay

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Ready for business

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The site looked like a battleground with soft drink cans, foil containers and paper napkins strewed all round but the meat on the hook looked good so I’ll be going back in a couple of weeks to see what it tastes like.

MTEF

You may never have come across MTEF, and when I first heard it, all I could think of was MDF, that compressed board of which so many shelves and kitchen units are made. I’m a little wiser now having spent two days a couple of weeks ago observing a workshop organised by MOFEA (the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs – I’m beginning to learn to decipher some of these abbreviations) to educate representatives of the Department of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health about a new system of budget planning which comes into force in a couple of months time. In previous years the Budget for the Gambia has been compiled by reference to historic costs, but in future each Ministry has to put forward their budget call using MTEF – a Medium Term Expenditure Framework.

To put it simply MTEF is a planning process to produce a three year rolling budget which is updated annually, at which stage the year just ending is removed from the calculations and another third year is added to the future. Each Ministry must now prepare their own plan based on setting a series of Strategic Objectives and Sub Objectives (falling in line with previously declared government policies). Each of these then leads to a series of Activities intended to achieve the objectives, and the objectives, sub objectives and activities are then ranked in order of priority. Of course all these Activities have to be costed as accurately as possible, and each one has to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely – don’t you just love these acronyms!), so decisions have also to be made on what targets are to be set for each of the three years including in the framework and what measure is to be used to gauge progress. An example in the case of our Department might be the number of hectares brought under irrigation during the period, or the number of new boreholes completed, so that part is relatively straightforward.

The most difficult part it seems to me is setting the Strategic Objectives representing broad thematic groups of programmes linked to policy which aim to deliver the Ministry’s overall goals; and the Sub Objectives representing areas of intervention. They need careful and precise drafting to cover all the main functions of the relevant Ministry yet need to be kept to a manageable number, and it was suggested to us that this should be between five and nine. Also the various different sub objectives should not overlap so this led to long discussions around the conference table.

At the end of two days our representatives had the bare bones of a plan for agriculture but there now needs to be more discussion, and a lot more flesh put on those bones before the next meeting with the Permanent Secretary – and with about 30 senior decision makers involved, it takes quite some time to achieve consensus of opinion as many different priorities are represented.

The day following this workshop was Worker’s Day and another national holiday with a kind of Sports Day in Banjul, and more celebrations at the National Stadium about fifteen minutes walk from our compound. We did talk about going to the latter to show our solidarity (!), but in the event I spent much of the day servicing my laptop which had been behaving oddly while at the MTEF workshop. For a time I wondered whether a virus had managed to evade my security measures but all seemed fine with firewall and antivirus up to date, and after much checking and housekeeping I finally decided the machine was like me – getting older and slowing down in the heat!

Another day in the office followed, but apart from my colleague Alimou and myself, and three secretaries, nobody else seemed to be present – there was another workshop being held at Somita and most of the senior staff had gone there or were out in the field, and as the report I am preparing had reached a stage where I need to consult with some of those who were absent, it had to be shelved for a few days. Fortunately we have plenty of other work to do so we fell back on our reserve activity – databases and training my colleague in the dark arts of Microsoft Access! Previously his data files were held in a number of spreadsheets but construction of a regional agricultural database should enable him to produce all sorts of reports at the push of a button and will give him more time to concentrate on his core planning function rather than having to spend hours finding and extracting facts and figures manually. So far we’ve built a basic database for staff records – and in the process I’m finding out how many staff we have, what they all do, and where they are based; and agricultural inputs – seed and fertiliser supplied to farmers through the national government or the FAO. (Even if you’re not agricultural you’ll probably still know this one – “The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations” who are heavily involved in development of the Gambia.) Last year, following a disastrous harvest in some areas in 2011, the FAO provided farmers in those areas with supplies of groundnut seed – on loan – to enable them to plant their major crop. Following harvest those loans should have been repaid, but of course, just like farmers at home many of them don’t seem to rank this particularly high on their priority list, so much of the seed loan is still outstanding! As a result our VLADP’s (Village Level Agricultural Development Promoters – i.e the staff at the sharp end) now have to chase some in their district, like a sheepdog rounding up stragglers, to ensure the books are balanced. I don’t envy them that job as apparently some of those who benefitted seem to view the seed as a gift, not a loan so I understand some of our staff are encountering a little difficulty!

While from a comfortable Western perspective it is easy to say that the seed was given as a loan and must be repaid, over here food security is a major issue and it is possible that in some cases the over-riding problem of providing sufficient food for the family to survive until next harvest means that the crop has been consumed instead. Of course, it is also entirely possible that some producers have sold the surplus viewing the bonus as a windfall from Allah……..…