Malnutrition remains a big public health and development challenge for The Gambia with one in four children under the age of five in the country stunted. According to the Standardized Monitoring and Assessment of Relief and Transitions (SMART) Survey 2015, four administrative regions (namely the North Bank Region (NBR), Lower River Region (LRR), Central River Region (CRR) and Upper River Region (URR)) have stunting rates above the national average. The food and nutrition insecurity challenge in these communities (like in other part of the country) is being exacerbated mainly by recurrent crops failures in recent years due to late, erratic, insufficient rains and flash floods during the planting seasons. Several farmers lack seeds, fertilizers, farming implements and well as knowledge and skills to enable them break the vicious cycle of food insecurity and poverty.
As part of an initiative aimed at ameliorating the problem, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on July 3, 2017 officially handed over a consignment of farm inputs to The Gambian Government. At least six thousand smallholder farmers in food insecure households in the four administrative regions are set to benefits from the high quality agricultural inputs to enable them boost production and productivity for improved food security and income. The input support worth over twenty-nine million Dalasi (GMD 29,320,809) is part of a larger European Union (EU) funded 30-month project entitled "Post-Crisis Response to Food Insecurity in The Gambia". Launched on 8 June 2017, the intervention seeks to contribute to the reduction of stunting among children 0-24 months in at least 11,000 food insecure households in the four regions. It is being jointly implemented by three UN Agencies, namely FAO, WFP and UNICEF in close partnership with the Department of Agriculture (and its specialized units), the National Nutrition Agency, the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and other civil society organizations committed to ending hunger, malnutrition and poverty reduction.
The items include 40 metric tons of maize, 20 metric tons of cowpeas, 50 metric tons of rice, 196 metric tons of UREA, 472 metric tons of NPK (15:15:15) and 226 metric tons of NPK (6:20:10). An additional 40 metric tons of Groundnut seed has also been procured.
Receiving the consignment on behalf of government at a ceremony in Jenoi, Lower River Region, Falalo Touray, Director General, and Department of Agriculture expressed gratitude to FAO and the EU for the 'timely' intervention. He acknowledged with appreciation FAO's longstanding assistance and partnership with The Gambia towards the attainment of sustainable development targets. Touray noted that strengthening the productive capacity as well as building the resilience of the vulnerable poor farmers is key to the fight against food insecurity and poverty. He stressed that the inputs are only meant for the most vulnerable farmers and households with malnourished children. "These farmers and households have already been identified by a survey and these inputs must be strictly distributed as intended", he added. He enjoined the local authorities and agricultural extension staff to ensure the judicious distribution of the items.
Touray used the forum to call for renewed and commitment and hard work from agricultural extension services and farmers for the achievement of the desired objective. He enjoined them to ensure the adoption of Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs). He said research shows the adoption of GAPs result in increased production and yields which are critical for food and nutrition security and poverty reduction. Commenting on the need for farmers to attain seed security, Touray explained that 10 metric tons of rice seeds would be put into seed production. He however appealed to farmers to plan and work towards achieving self-sufficiency in seed to emancipate themselves from hunger and poverty.
Dr. Perpetua Katepa-Kalala, FAO Country Representative also reminded farmers of the critical role they could play towards the success of the project which aims to improve food security and reduce stunting among children under the age of two. She acknowledged progress in reducing hunger over the years but noted that food and nutrition insecurity and poverty remain a big challenge. She encouraged farmers to adhere to the recommended practices (GAPs, nutrition and care) that the project would be promoting.
Katepa-Kalala thanked the EU for entrusting FAO, UNICEF and WFP with funds for the execution of the project. She also commended The Gambian Government for prioritizing food security and the agricultural sector in general in the quest for sustainable socio-economic growth and development. She wished the farming community a successful cropping season.
His Excellency, Atila Lajos, EU Ambassador to The Gambia explained that the project is a follow-up to recent EU funded food security interventions in response to crop failure in The Gambia. He also tasked the farmers to make use of the assistance to improve their lives and livelihood whiles reaffirming the EU's continuous commitment to assist The Gambia in the fight against food and nutrition insecurity and poverty.
Mrs. Fanta Bojang Samateh-Manneh, Governor, Lower River Region applauded the intervention. She restated her resolve to ensure the inputs reach the 'right people'. She also challenged the target beneficiaries to be steadfast and contribute their quota to the attainment of the set targets.
Mrs. Fatou Njie Jarjusey, a farmer who delivered the vote of thanks also lauded FAO's work in The Gambia and around the world towards the eradication of hunger, malnutrition and poverty reduction. She also thanked The Gambian Government and The EU for the intervention.