Successful IFAD-supported project helps influence national policy in The Gambia

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Successful IFAD-supported project helps influence national policy in The Gambia

©IFAD/Nana Kofi Acquah

Landowner, Mariama Jarju, 50, 10 children, harvests rice with her farm workers in Aljamdou village, Gambia. “ Formerly, when we harvested rice, we lived on it for only one month. Now, after the dike was built, we can live on the rice we harvest for nine months.”

The Gambia is taking steady steps towards prosperity by scaling up proven land and water management practices across the country and developing national policies to back these efforts.

Nema, the local Mandinka word for prosperity, is also the name of the IFAD-supported National Agricultural Land and Water Management Development Project currently being implemented in The Gambia. This initiative, which is building on the achievements made over 30 years in partnership with smallholder farmers and the government, is scaling up the successes of the earlier IFAD-supported Participatory Integrated Watershed Management Project (PIWAMP). The two projects are part of a 20-year programme promoting community-driven agricultural land and water development.

"The achievements of those farmers that participated in PIWAMP, especially the women, convinced the Government of The Gambia that investing in agriculture on a wide scale is a path to prosperity – Nema - for the country and its citizens," said Moses Abukari, IFAD's country programme manager for The Gambia.

"The Government has also recognized that continued commitment is crucial in order for development initiatives to make a sustainable difference to people's lives and is therefore developing national policies that uphold its commitment."

PIWAMP, which closed at the end of June 2014, provided basic infrastructure that increased access to productive land. It constructed 81.5 kilometres of dikes; 3.3 kilometres of spillways; 157 kilometres of contour bunds; and 2 kilometres of footbridges. These improvements allowed about 50,000 hectares of productive land to be reclaimed. As a result, upland crop production of maize, millet, peanut, and sorghum increased significantly. The same was true for paddy rice, which accounted for nearly half of last season's crop production.

More land, more food

The project implemented activities in 125 communities spread across the six agricultural regions. During the 2013/2014 growing season, these communities cultivated an estimated total developed area of 50,000 hectares, which was almost 200 per cent greater than the appraisal target of over 17,000 hectares. Nearly 200 kilometres of inter-village roads were built, giving families better access to health centres, schools, and markets. The project also helped farmers to establish associations, improve their business skills and learn about land degradation and climate change.

"Overall, household food security in the project sites has almost doubled, with the average hunger season experienced by families falling from nine months to five months," said Abukari. "This is a result of both increased production due to reclamation of land and improved access to markets, which raises family income. But improving productivity remains a challenge."

Scaling up the gains

The Government of The Gambia was so impressed with the results of PIWAMP, that it has asked IFAD to take the lead in implementing the Gambia National Agriculture Investment Plan 2011-2015, which aims to shift the agricultural sector from subsistence to an increasingly efficient market system. Accordingly, IFAD's realization of this plan - which was formulated as part of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme - is being channeled through Nema, the end goal of which is to reduce poverty among rural women and young people.

The initiative is crucial to The Gambia's economic growth, given that agriculture employs more than 70 per cent of the population. More than half of these agricultural workers are women.

"Land reclamation is especially important for women," said Abukari. "Rice, which is the main staple food, is produced by women, who are also the core vegetable producers in The Gambia, and Nema has been designed by them, with them and for them. Nema will also create job opportunities in agribusiness for young people."

During its first year of operation, Nema laid the groundwork. It produced 25 watershed development plans and formed 28 farmer organizations, whose membership was generally split evenly between women and men. The project also signed contracts with Gambian public and private service providers for training in areas such as business management, seed certification, farmer field schools and functional literacy for women farmers.

The Gambia is one of Africa's smallest and poorest nations. Approximately three quarters of the rural population is classified as poor. Underlying the high poverty rates is the country's relative lack of economic diversity, which makes The Gambia highly vulnerable to increasingly erratic rainfall, food price volatility, and financial crises. The consequences of rural poverty include widespread food and income insecurity resulting from weather-induced crop failures and shortages of cash. Every year, people living in rural areas face the ‘hunger season,' a period of two to four months at the peak of the rains between July and September, when household food stocks are low or depleted.      

Hard evidence used in policy development

Through Nema, IFAD is assisting the Government in setting up a functional monitoring and evaluation framework for the agricultural sector. To create baseline land-use information for the project, local professionals are being trained to use earth observation technologies to monitor rice crops. This effort is part of an ongoing pilot partnership between IFAD, the European Space Agency and Sarmap, a private Swiss company that provides remote sensing products and services.

"This technology gives us hard evidence that can be used in policy dialogue," said Abukari. "It enables us to demonstrate to government ministers the difference that this work has meant for their country."

Nema is already having an impact on policy development at the country level. Through the project, IFAD is working with the Government to draw up a national rice development strategy, in collaboration with key partners such as the Coalition for African Rice Development. The project has also helped strengthen the country programme approach, building synergies among all of the ongoing IFAD-supported projects in The Gambia.

IFAD has also strongly advocated for the finalization and implementation of the national microfinance strategic policy, and is stressing the need for further professionalization of the microfinance industry through an international technical assistance initiative.

Supporting women and young people

The inclusion of women in decision-making and training is a priority for all IFAD-supported projects in The Gambia. These projects directly target women - for instance, in lowland development to improve agriculture production, in small livestock management and vegetable production, and in access to financial services. They also target both young women and young men with on- and off-farm job opportunities, in light of the country's high rates of unemployment and underemployment and its increasing rural-urban migration rate.

"In the drive to transform rural areas and increase productivity, we need targeted investment in young people," Abukari said. "They need to be agro-empowered to be able to seize the myriad of opportunities that are available along the agricultural value chains. This will help them build better futures in rural areas, where they are desperately needed to succeed the current rapidly aging population of small-scale farmers."

The Government of The Gambia has also made significant strides in developing other sectoral policies – particularly the Gender and Women Empowerment Policy 2010-2020 and National Youth Policy 2009-2018. In future years, the full implementation of these policies will complement the country's broader socio-economic growth and sustainable development.