SEATTLE — Gambia, unlike many of its neighbors, has maintained relative political stability since gaining independence in 1965. However, the small nation remains one of the poorest in the world. Poverty in Gambia is largely a rural phenomenon, with 74 percent of the rural population living below the poverty line.
Gambia’s poverty rate directly correlates with the country’s agriculture reliance. More than 60 percent of Gambia’s population depends on agriculture for their livelihoods. This lack of economic diversity has devastating effects on Gambia’s population, for agriculture is unreliable and its success is subject to many outside influences.
One outstanding factor that consistently hurts Gambian agriculture is volatile rainfall. During the peak rain season that occurs between July and September, rural families suffer from food shortages. This time of year is commonly referred to as “the hungry season,” and poor families are forced to sustain themselves with low-income cash crops.
Furthermore, due to lack of economic diversity, global market trends hit Gambia’s agricultural sector particularly hard. When food and fuel prices rose as a result of the worldwide economic downturn, many more Gambian families were pushed into extreme poverty. For, when staple crop prices spike, most rural Gambian cannot afford to sustain themselves nutritionally until the prices normalize.
Another defining characteristic of rural Gambia’s poverty rate is its dependency on women. The majority of the rural population is female, with women accounting for 70 percent of unskilled laborers and more than half of the agricultural labor. Most women also grow produce and own livestock on the side in order to meet their family’s needs.
Rural women in Gambia traditionally do not own land and do not have access to credit. In turn, they often are excluded from making decisions concerning their own lives. Despite this, women still burden a disproportionately large amount of the labor. Compared to men, women are not only more likely to be impoverished, but the poverty they endure is also more severe.
Overall, Gambia’s rural farms suffer from low-productivity and generate low income. Lack of infrastructure, particularly efficient water management systems, is largely responsible for the low productivity of smallholder farms.
Farmers’ low productivity is a significant problem, for Gambia has enough land and potential to feed its entire population with staple foods. However, due to inefficient roads, unreliable markets and outdated technology, Gambian farmers are unable to maximize their productivity and many people are left hungry.
Fortunately, many of the issues that hinder rural Gambia can be addressed and bettered. Thanks to the nation’s stable political climate, the small African nation has the potential to lift itself out of poverty. Recognizing this, many organizations have invested in Gambia with efforts to promote women and promote rural development, both of which are imperative to improving agricultural productivity.
Rural Gambia’s poverty rate is high, but it does not have to stay that way. Investing in smallholder market support and human development are the keys to helping the rural population out of poverty, and therefore alleviating Gambia’s overall poverty rate.
– Catherine Fredette