Monday, February 29, 2016

Brikamaba: Women Turn to Gardens After Failed Rice Growing Season

After a failed rice-growing season, women turn to gardens in Brikamaba, CRR (Photo by M.S. Joof/TNBES)
Some three hundred and ten women in Brikamaba, Lower Fulladu West of the Central River Region (CRR) have turned to gardening to fight off food security threats after a failed rice-growing season.

More than five hundred women and their families, 282 kilometers from the Gambian capital, Banjul, saw their rice fields completely destroyed by floods following torrential rains between July and September in 2015, the villagers told TNBES on Friday.

Fatounding Yerra-Jah, a native of Brikamaba, is one of those affected. “During this past rainy season, the whole of my rice field of one hectare was destroyed. I and all other women and men involved in rice growing suffered the same fate,” she said.

“If my rice field wasn’t destroyed by the flood last year, I could have up to 50 to 60 bags of 50 kilograms of rice from the produce,” she said.

Mrs. Yerra-Jah said the loss is huge. In The Gambia, a bag of imported rice cost D1200, and if her rice field had not been destroyed, she could have earned up to D37, 500 if she sold 50 bags of locally produced rice at D750 for each bag.  

For women and children

In February 2016, the Agency for the Development of Women and Children (ADWAC), established a “Food Security Garden” in Brikamaba. It is a part of its five-year project funded by the Spanish International Cooperation for Development (ICID).

Referred to as Sustainable Agriculture and Environmental Governance (SAGE), the project is meant to empower women by supporting their socio-economic development and to improve their livelihoods.

Mrs. Fatounding Yerra-Jah said she lost her one hectare rice field to last year’s flood (Photo by M.S.Joof/TNBES)
Mrs. Yerra-Jah is one of 310 women working in this garden, growing vegetables to make up for their losses at the rice fields. But she said earnings from her rice field are incomparable with what she will be getting from the garden. She is entitled to only four beds at the garden.

“I work here, at the garden, to support my family. I know only four beds in this garden can never be enough for me to meet my financial and household needs – but this is all I have at the moment,” she said.

She said she is hoping to settle her children’s book bills and assist her husband in the financial expenses at the household when she harvest and sold her produce from the garden by April.

“I would have love to have more [beds] but this is all each woman can have in this garden,” she said. “I cannot estimate how much money I can make from my produce until I harvest, but I know I will have something to benefit my family.”

Karamo Kuyateh, auditor of the Brikamaba Garden Committee, said there are 1125 beds in the garden where 310 women are currently working, growing vegetables. He said the women are growing onion, tomato, okra, cabbage, pepper and lettuce.

“This project is important because it is helping women and children, and any project helping women and children is also helping the men,” Mr. Kuyateh, who manages the water supply at the garden, said.

A water tank at the Brikamaba Community Garden is meant to serve more than 1000 beds of vegetables, but the women said they face inadequate supply (Photo by M.S. Joof/TNBES)

“It is equally beneficial to the men because when their children want books and uniforms for their education their mothers will take care of that from their proceeds from the garden – and feeding and clothing too.

“For every three beds of onion, one can have two and half pans, if it is pepper, you can have more than 50 kilograms – which cost D1000.”

Lamin Jabbie, ADWAC’s food security and land management officer, said: “I think this project [this food security garden] is very important because it will help increase the earning capacity of women.”

ADWAC established five other gardens in Salikenni, Kerr Ardo and Mandori in the North Bank Region and in Pakaliba, Mamud Fana, and Sare Luba in Central River Region. Jabbie said each of the garden cost around D2 million.

“Each of these gardens cost approximately D2 million – if you look at the technical aspect of it – the borehole, putting up the wires, the water tanks, pipe fittings, the solar panels and the labour cost for the contractor – obviously it is a huge amount,” he said.

Inadequate water supply

But the women in Brikamaba said the main challenge they face in the garden is inadequate water supply. According to Mrs. Yerra-Jah, water shortage is the only problem she and other women are facing at the moment. “The tank we have here for the borehole is small, we would prefer a bigger tank or an additional tank,” she said.

However, Mr. Jabbie said it is normal that at there is not always enough water because the soil is pretty much dry and would need to absorb a lot of water initially.

“That is the reason why the women are currently facing water problems but this will change as time goes on,” he said. “The technicians have quantified the area which is one hectare and the borehole will be able to serve the needs of the women.”

He also said ADWAC is monitoring the situation and in two to three months if the water problem persists then “we will discuss it at the office and try to seek assistance.”

Gardener (Center) interacts with Karamo Kuyateh, auditor of the Brikamaba Garden Committee (Right) and Fanta Konjira, a presenter at Brikamaba Community Radio (Photo by M.S. Joof/TNBES)
His agency is yet officially handover the garden to the women and the community of Brikamaba, and Jabbie said when they do, a sustainability plan will be in place.

He said: “There is a sustainability mechanism because we set up committees called the “Food Security Committee” at village and inter-village levels.

“The village food security committee members have been trained to manage the vegetable garden. We will still give them more capacity building so that after the garden is handed over to them they can continue to make good use of it.

“As at now, the committee has tasked itself to contribute a little amount of money that it can use to tackle minor problems arising at the garden.

“In all these villages that we have established community gardens we have committees that will oversee the smooth running of the gardens once we hand them over to the communities.”

In recent years, there has been a lot of drum up support for food security in The Gambia following a severe food crisis blamed on erratic rainfall.

In 2011, aid agencies said a total crop failure in The Gambia left more than 700, 000 people hungry and in dire need of food aid.

Written by Modou S. Joof

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