Gambia: Stakeholders Draw Lessons From 2011 Crop Failure

Stakeholders under the aegis of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the Gambia government recently met at the Paradise Suites Hotel in Kololi for a day's forum on the lessons learnt from the March 2011 crop failure, that created food insecurity across the length and breadth of the country.

The stakeholders, who also brainstormed on the joint humanitarian response to the crop failure, validated their achievements, lessons learnt, as well as put forward recommendations for improvement in the future. The forum availed them the opportunity to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of the humanitarian response to the food security and nutrition crisis in The Gambia.

Deputising for the vice president and minister of Women's Affairs at the occasion, the Agriculture minister, Solomon Owens, underscored the significance of the meeting and singled out the benefits of coordination and communication. He also expressed delight at the joint efforts used in addressing the after-effects of 2011 crop failure, which he said was well coordinated.

The Agriculture minister went on to lament that crop failure and disasters are becoming endemic in this country, dating back to 1974 when the first Sahel drought hit the nation. He recalled that experts had predicted that it was going to be a significant event and that the country must place itself to respond to it in every five years."Time has indicated that it is no longer every five years cycle that we are experiencing drought, but it is as frequent and often as every other year. What we experienced in 2011 was really serious - crop loss to the tune of 70 percent," he decried.

Minister Owens asserted that since day one the government of The Gambia has been on the forefront, disclosing that it invested a staggering amount of D117M not only for relief, but also building the resilience of the affected communities and ensuring the recovery of their production system.

The Agric minister then expressed optimismover the significant increment of this year's rice and groundnut production, which he told the stakeholders, is earmarked to hit 100% according to survey. "Recently, we declared a national animal health emergency with serious disease of livestock. Preliminary investigation indicates that out of 390, 000 heads of cattle in this country, we have started to lose 200, 000 heads worth of two million Dalasis. This is just coming immediately after we addressed the crop failure in this country, and this is another major disaster," he stated.

He concluded by reiterating that the workshop was very relevant; that it would help address some of the mistakes made earlier. He commended the development partners, such as the UN system, and specifically the WFP and FAO for their untiring efforts in resource mobilisation.

Delivering a statement on behalf of the UN resident coordinator, the WFP representative in The Gambia, Victoria Ginja, recalled that eight months ago, they gathered at the same venue with senior government officials to discuss the magnitude and impact of the crop failure, the resultant needs and gaps. Thus, she noted that they are now looking to review the progress and shortcomings.

"We employed all possible means to mobilise resources through joint efforts to support the implementation of response actions. Today, we are winding down on these interventions by convening to discuss our achievements, lessons learnt and recommendations for improvement," she added.

Ginja used the opportunity to commend all stakeholders for the strong spirit of collaboration that was demonstrated even prior to the declaration of an emergency through the Post Harvest Assessment. "With the government of The Gambia in the lead, diplomatic missions, UN agencies, civil society organisations have responded to the urgent call to assist the people of The Gambia," she acknowledged.

She went on to urge:"As we recognise the successful implementation and conclusion of humanitarian response to the crop failure, let us continue to work on strengthening the ability of the people to cope and recover from any such emergency in the future; vulnerable people who are exposed to frequent floods and droughts year after year".

The WFP rep then reaffirmed their commitment to working with the government in this regard with the guidiance of the UN Humanitarian Affairs and the UNDP Capacity for Disaster Reduction Initiative in Geneva.

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