Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Looming Food Crisis As Gambia Faces Total Crop Failure

A technical adviser of the Gambia Rice Expansion Project who is based at Si Kunda village in the Jarra district of the Lower River Region, said the improved rice variety, NERICA, has failed (Photo Credit: Modou S. Joof)
The Gambia is facing a looming food crisis as farmers across the country experience a total crop failure this season.

The 2011 cropping season has seen severe poor harvest of various crops in all regions of the West African country – from rice, groundnut, maize to millet production.

A local chief in the North Bank Region told a group of journalists touring EU-funded projects under the Non-state Actors Strengthening Programme that this is the worst crop failure in 20 years.

“I have been the Chief of Jokadu district for more than two decades, but I have not seen this kind of crop failure in the past 20 years,” Chief Jim Fatima Jobe said. “Our groundnuts have not matured enough to fill the shells and are not fit to serve as seedlings for the next cropping season.”

Chief Jobe displays poor groundnut seeds from the year's harvest
As a result, Mr. Jobe said livelihoods have been threatened. “The people of this region are mainly depended on farming for their survival but our livelihoods have been shattered,” he said.

“Our only hope of survival and seedlings for the next cropping season lies in the hands of the government or donors.”

Towards the beginning of the 2011 cropping season, The Gambia’s Metrology Office forecasted that the rains will be late but will be more than normal. It also predicted there will be good agricultural productivity.

However, farmers in four regions of The Gambia - the West Coast, Lower River, Central River and North Bank regions – are witnessing the opposite as of November 2011.

95% of rice production failed

A technical adviser of The Gambia Rice Expansion Project who is based at Si Kunda village in the Jarra district of the Lower River Region, said the improved rice variety, NERICA, has failed.

The farmers here [at Si Kunda] cultivated 42 hectares of Nerica rice under the auspices of the project but 95% of their total rice production failed due to erratic rains,” Sunkary Dampha said.

“All the upland rice fields at the village are not good. The only good rice farms are those in lowland [swampy] areas and even those ones have under-performed compared to recent years.”

Women and men at Samba Njabeh village heading to a farm to show produce of early millet from the community farm (Photo Credit: Modou S. Joof) 
The people of Si Kunda have been generally food secure over the years and have been producing enough rice to feed themselves. However, one farmer said the crop failure means they have been rendered food insecure.

According to Mr. Dampha, over the years the people here [at the village] hardly buy imported rice when the rains are good. He said a hectare of rice can produce up to three tons.

The season is bad

Wally Ndaw, chairman of Samba Njabeh village development committee, described this year’s cropping season as bad.

“The [cropping] season is bad. We cultivated early millet, maize and groundnut but the outcome is far below our expectations. We have never experienced such a massive crop failure,” Mr. Ndaw said.

Up to 70 percent of Gambia’s 1.5 million population living in rural communities are expected to deal with a food crisis has every potential to be severe. Farmers said they are only hoping to rely on government and donor support to see them through.

  • Author: Modou S. Joof

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