Agriculture harbors many uncertainties. That’s only natural. But the effects of our changing climate and the current corona pandemic challenge us in different ways.
There we had it, the practical example of how to deal with change: We were just teaching the chapter “Adapting to economic change”, when the Lufthansa trainees, that teach the business modules in the Gambian Youth Camp, had to fly back home due to the spreading corona pandemic. And not only that. Shortly afterwards, all schools training centers were closed. That also affected the Gambian Youth Project and all classes had to be postponed. Everything was suddenly different.
Luckily we were able to adapt very quickly. The Lufthansa trainees switched their lesson plan to online courses. The youth camp transformed into a production facility and the students are allowed to continue their work in the gardens and sell the vegetables on the market. However, the long-term economic consequences of the pandemic and the intensifying climatic changes require more forward-looking action.
When market prices drop
After implementing all necessary health measures to curb the pandemic, the Gambian government froze the prices of the most important staple foods to prevent an abuse of market prices. But as tourism collapsed, many people lost their income – for many people poverty is more threatening than the pandemic. In consequence the lower demand for fresh vegetables is still pressing the prices.
This development affects our partner organization in a negative way, since the RDO finances itself through the sale of vegetables. All operating costs income. Let us hope that the RDO at least manages to improve its balance in the hot months and in the rainy season, when hardly any other vendors offer fresh vegetables on the market.
We have to watch the development on the markets and any change in demands closer than ever and carefully consider which vegetables will bring the best revenue at the time of harvest. Growing niche products and diversifying the sources of income are thereby important mechanisms for responding to possible changes – even without a pandemic.
Diversifying the ways of income
In order to compensate for possible loss of income, we have been diversifying the RDO’s sources of income since the beginning of the year. Since the beginning of march, chickens, cows and goats complete the agricultural activities. They are an important part of holistic agriculture. But they are also another source of income. Just like the bees, because honey is in demand. But we will have to continue to enhance the product area of the RDO to compensate for upcoming economic changes.
Adapting to climate change
The climatic changes are becoming increasingly clear. That is why we set up solar irrigation systems in all projects, that enable the participants to grow vegetables even in the dry season. But that’s not enough. In March this year it was as hot as usualy in May or June. Delicate vegetables such as tomatoes can no longer cope with the heat, and yields are reduced massively. The students of the Gambian Youth Project are now growing the tomatoes in the greenhouses a lot earlier than usual. So the greenhouses not only protect against the heavy rains during monsoon season but also give shadow and protect the sensitive tomatoes from the sun.
The effects of climate change are particularly hard on agriculture. We will have to continue to adapt to the ever changing climatic conditions. And the economic consequences of the global pandemic will continue to be felt for a long time. This is why it is so important that the students learn to look ahead and react flexibly to changing conditions. Dealing with changes, however difficult they may be, will strengthen them; resilience is an important prerequisite for future entrepreneurs.