MACUNGIE, Pennsylvania — The Gambia, commonly referred to as Gambia, has struggled for over a decade with crop failures and famine caused by erosion, unpredictable flooding, drought and other climate variables. For Gambia, poverty and agricultural failure are deeply linked because of agriculture’s key role in the economy. A 2020 report by the International Trade Administration (ITA) indicates that the agricultural sector employs 75% of the Gambian workforce. For these people and their families, an unfavorable harvest means no income and no food supply.
Life in Gambia
The World Bank estimates that in 2020, 9.6% of Gambians were living below the international poverty line, down from 10.3% in 2015. The World Bank also emphasizes that improving the agricultural sector in Gambia plays a crucial part in lowering the number of people living in poverty. Similar to the ITA’s 2020 findings, the World Bank found in 2019 that “more than two-thirds” of the population live in rural areas and work in agriculture. In Gambia as a whole, but especially in these rural areas, “the agriculture sector plays an important role in ending hunger, malnutrition and extreme poverty.”
A number of organizations have stepped up to help prevent agricultural failure in Gambia and fight poverty, including ActionAid, the U.N. Environment Programme, the Green Climate Fund and the World Food Programme. Their actions include building flood control gabions, restoring ecosystems by planting drought-resistant plants and implementing school feeding and food distribution programs.
ActionAid: The Agroecology and Resilience Project (AERP)
ActionAid International began as a charity in 1972 and began focusing on human rights in the 1990s. This organization and its branches in various countries now dedicate efforts to helping people in poverty from the front lines, working with local communities and organizations to improve gender equality, social justice, food production and more.
Following a devastating drought in 2012, ActionAid launched the Agroecology and Resilience Project (AERP) in Gambia and Senegal. Subsequent flooding in 2016 and drought in 2018 made ActionAid’s work even more critical, as agricultural failure in Gambia becomes more imminent and widespread. AERP helps farmers adapt to the many challenges caused by climate change, including drought, unpredictable flooding and soil salinization. In Gambia, ActionAid provided aid to 18 different farming communities and 4,000 individual farmers in the span of five years.
For instance, AERP teaches farmers to raise and sell livestock, which provides an additional form of income when crop yields are low. Communities and ActionAid volunteers also constructed gabions, which are structures made from rock, mud and wire mesh, intended to prevent floodwaters from eroding fertile topsoil and depositing salt.
UNEP and the Green Climate Fund
The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) is the branch of the U.N. dedicated to studying and organizing a global response to climate change and other environmental problems. In 2015, the Paris Agreement created the Green Climate Fund, which provides money to projects in developing nations to help them become more environmentally sustainable.
Funding for the Large-scale Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) Project in The Gambia comes mainly from the Green Climate Fund. The Gambian Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Forestry, Water and Wildlife carries out the project. The EbA project began in 2017 with an expected lifespan of six years and it is still running today in 2021.
UNEP and the Green Climate Fund hope to stop agricultural failure in Gambia, and in turn, pull people out of poverty by planting a variety of climate-resistant shrubs and trees across 10,000 hectares of land. Estimates expect the project to directly benefit 11,550 people and indirectly benefit another 46,200 citizens.
The World Food Programme: Crisis Response and School Feeding
Groups such as ActionAid and UNEP are doing critical work to restore the environment and prevent future climate disasters from wreaking havoc on crop yields. In the meantime, though, the World Food Programme (WFP) is providing families with the means to acquire meals. For example, the WFP’s crisis response efforts involve providing money or food to a minimum of 10,000 families affected by agricultural failure in Gambia and other crises. This WFP’s crisis response prioritizes families who are especially vulnerable, such as those led by women and families with disabled members.
The WFP also runs its school feeding program in Gambia, which provides meals to 115,000 preschool and primary school children during the academic year. This program purchases produce from the owners of small, female-led farms to whom the WFP provides training in order to help these farmers produce more food.
Ultimately, the work of organizations like ActionAid, UNEP and the Green Climate Fund in conjunction with the aid provided by the WFP and others will help ensure that Gambian citizens have both food in the present and an environment that will continue to support and expand agricultural efforts in the future.
– Julia Welp