This Column is meant to monitor and report on issues that concerns the people in rural communities, in terms of how their development is hindered or facilitated.
Rural development is a process that aims to improve the standard of living of people in rural communities.
According to Robert chambers, rural development is a strategy that enables a specific group of people, poor rural women and men, gain for themselves and their children, more of what they want and need; that it involves helping the poorest among those who seek a livelihood in rural communities, to demand and control more of the benefits of rural development. The group he said, includes small scale farmers, tenants and the landless.
That thus the term rural development, may be used to imply any one of the above-mentioned connotations. To avoid the ineffective floundering among the myriad definitions, we shall define rural development as a process leading to sustainable improvement in the quality of life of rural people, especially the poor.
According to Lamin Sambou Kinteh, for rural development to be meaningful and realizable, the trinity of development must be present and these are electricity, water and rural infrastructural development such as roads, industries, schools, health facilities etc.
It is essential to note at this stage, that rural poverty in The Gambia is strongly linked to economic concerns and that the main causes and characteristics of rural poverty in the Gambia are:-
remote locations with poor community infrastructure and services such as paved roads, markets and safe drinking water;
lack of skills and capacity, and a disproportionate incidence of illiteracy and poor skills among women and youths;
limited access to inputs, financial services, markets and value chains and reliance on traditional farming techniques.
Thus, the rural-urban migration.
Poverty, lack of voice and decent work opportunities, can contribute to a sense of hopelessness that discourages young people to stay in rural Gambia.
Young people in rural Gambia are the future of agriculture and other rural cottage industries. However, they often lack the guidance and support necessary to fully contribute to the development of their communities, thereby fuelling the vicious cycle of rural underdevelopment and poverty.
Acknowledging and addressing their needs and aspirations is vital for local and national growth and development.
The problem with the Gambia is that the agro-industry is limited because the vast majority of perishable farm produce have virtually no value addition after their production and these products are not processed, but consumed in their fresh condition. As a result, these perishable products are often wasted or sold at giveaway prices.
In addition, promotion of agro-food processing would have significant positive impact on the life of rural people particularly the youth. It will provide them with a ready market for their produce as well as promote the development of cottage industries in rural Gambia, which can improve the income of farmers.
To ensure that rural-urban migration is addressed, the local and national planners must develop integrated approaches to rural youth employment that include measures to increase job opportunities, job quality, and improve living conditions as well as Support entrepreneurship of young men and women through proper training, access to credit, and other business development services.
Rural development experts have the view that increase investment in rural farms as well as non-farm activities such as cottage industries and social and economic infrastructure, will offer youth attractive job prospects and living conditions through the encouragement of cooperatives run by them; that this is the surest way to end rural-urban migration and thus ensure growth and development.
What is the position of the new dispensation? See next issue.