Additional constraints in Gambian Agriculture

Decreasing and irregular precipitation causes additional constraints for rural population

Agriculture is the backbone of the Gambia’s economy both in terms of output (about 30% GDP) and employment about 75 percent of the total labor force engaged in agriculture of which most are subsistence farmers. These 75 percent of the population are mostly living under less than $1.25 per day. According to the United Nation Development Program Human Development Index (HDI), the Gambia’s HDI value for 2012 is 0.43, making it in one of the low human development category and positioning the country at 165 out of 187 countries and territories. In 2013 cropping season (June to October) in the country was affected by erratic and unevenly distributed rain fall.  Low rainfall in some parts of the country lead to low level of crop performance as well as cause damages to some upland crops, while other areas were affected by heavy downpours in the form of flooding and submerges. Ultimately, these have affected overall production and productivity.
Cumulative rainfall from May 1 – September 10, 2013 (Source: Dept. of Water Resources)
A recent assessment on field crop performance in the 2013 cropping season and the peoples coping mechanism shows an increase on domestic prices of basic food commodities, both imported and local food commodities. An increase in prices of food prices will certainly make access to food even more difficult for a large proportion of the population in rural where majority of farmers are concentrated as what they cultivated for subsistence is already exhausted.
Farmers have also this year preparing for their farms for the 2014 cropping season, however, this is not looking good for this year’s cropping season. The rains started in June but up till now, farmer are still planting their field crops as the rains are erratic and takes more than week before rains comes again. Some areas are even planting the second times as those that were planted wilted off because there was no rains for weeks.
Rural Development Organization with support from Stifung Sabab Lou in Germany have supported three communities in the Gambia to help them engaged in whole year round horticultural farming. This is hope and we firmly believe will help reduce poverty and also build the resilience of the communities against shocks. That said, however, it is very vital to have successful field cropping season that will supplement the gains made in horticultural garden. Horticultural gardening is also a new thing for the farmers.
One of the women interviewed made this remark with regard to the farming yield of the field crops: “Well for majority there this seasons produce have all been consume and so a lot of people are living on earn and consume. Some people’s produce were finish since March and people like me are selling my garden produce to buy food for my family at any cost. And go around to do any other work to earn money to feed my family.”
In conclusion, the rising food prices decreasing the purchasing powers of the farmers which affects their food security situation and living conditions. Secondly, in addition to rainfall problem, declining soil fertility have also been responsible for poor production.
As a way forward to strengthen the gains made by RDO, it is crucial to support the farmers with high quality, drought resistance and seeds that can have high market value crops or vegetables. Provide adequate fertilizer at affordable price to all farmers. Access points of fertilizer in the provinces should also be increased as some points are too far making fertilizer in some areas inaccessible. Secondly, support to proper soil management, thirdly enhance access to existing microcredit facilities to enable farmers’ access credit to improve their living condition, particularly during rainy seasons when situations are difficult in the rural areas. Fourthly, expansion of the women and youth vegetable gardens as this serves as one of the main sources of income for most women in the rural areas and will also serve as a buffer should in case this year’s field cropping season completely fails.

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