By Mamadou Edrisa Njie
In The Gambia, women clearly dominate crop production in the lowlands. Rice and vegetable production are the principal livelihood sources for the overwhelming majority of these farmers. They work almost exclusively in tidal and rain-fed lowland ecologies. Large areas of lowland are poorly developed and lack basic infrastructure for improved farming. One consequence of this is that women rice and vegetable farmers exploiting the lowlands rely on traditionally unproductive cultivation practices, resulting in low yields and farm revenues.
Investment in improving the performance of lowland ecologies across the country has a huge potential for direct positive effects on the socioeconomic status of rural women as well as the overall nutritional status of rural households. Providing women access to more productive lowlands that will improve yields and overall production will translate into increased food availability for rural households as well as increased revenues for rural women farmers who are engaged in lowland rice and vegetable farming.
Land and infrastructure development is a central component of the Nema-Chosso intervention strategy in The Gambia, according to Nema-Chosso Success Story report.
A central element of the project’s theory of change is that improving the productivity of scare agricultural land will contribute directly to ‘increased incomes from improved productivity based on sustainable land and water management practices’ and ‘reduced poverty of rural women and youth’ across the country.
The report stated that over the past 5 years, the Nema-Chosso project has made significant investments in land development and infrastructure interventions seeking to significantly increase the annual incomes of women and youths engaged in production and other activities in value chains linked to rain-fed lowland irrigated tidal rice and vegetable farming.
“Efforts have focused on increasing yields and incomes of women and youths engaged in farming rain-fed lowland and tidal areas, through investments in land development, reclamation of degraded areas as well as effective water control and drainage structures,” It added.
The Nema-Chosso Project Director, Momodou L. Gassama is with the conviction that, whilst the project has made major investments in these areas, it is extremely important to stay focused on the targeted results of increased yields and incomes for women and youths.
He noted that the real achievements should be measured not just in terms of the area developed or improved, but by the effects on the lives and livelihoods of the women and youths who are the direct targets of the intervention.
“The Nema-Chosso project has invested in land and infrastructure development for higher yields and increase income of rural women in The Gambia”, said Gassama.
The Nema-Chosso Financial Controller, Alhaji Jabang, who echoed a similar remark and reiterated that ‘whilst we have invested millions of Dalasi in land and infrastructure development over the past 5 years, the development value of the investments should be determined by improvements in yields and incomes for rural women in the intervention areas’.
With the achievement of these results, the report indicated that the project targeted 10 communities in the Central River Region (North and South), where 422 hectares of tidal land was opened for rice cultivation over the past 5 years.
In Barajelly Suba, 40 hectares of previously unused land was developed for tidal rice cultivation in 2017.
A Hanjula Konteh from Barajally Suba recounted her experience in agriculture and how the development of 40 hectares of new tidal area for rice production is impacting her life as well as the lives of women spread across 50 households in her community.
“I have spent my entire productive life in farming, so agriculture is without doubt my principal source of livelihood,” she said, noting that prior to this investment, herself and basically all women farmers in the community grew rice in unproductive uplands with very low yields of less than 1.5 tons per hectare.
According to her, Nema-Chosso’s intervention has not only stopped at providing them with access to land but also supported them to access tractor plowing services for land preparation as well as fertilizer which has a life changing experience for them.
Lowland and infrastructure development work by Nema has not been limited to tidal irrigation as over the past 5 years, the project has also opened up more than 12,000 hectares of rainfed lowland area for use by women farmers spread across 38 communities in 4 administrative regions.
Key investment areas include the construction of causeways, spillways, dikes, bridges for improved water control as well as access to farmland for lowland rice production.
At Pakalinding in the Lower River Region, the construction of causeways has opened up 200 hectares of lowland that was extremely difficult to access before the project intervention.
The report highlighted that this represents a fulfillment of the dreams of women rice farmers of Pakalinding that facilitating easier access to their lowland rice fields will bring ‘Nemo-dorong’ (meaning prosperity) to the community, which represents the source of the project’s name ‘Nema’.
Bakoto Sanyang, fondly referred to ‘Nema Baama or Mother of Nema’, pleasantly noted that ‘lowland rice farmers at Pakalinding are currently obtaining average lowland rice yields of almost 4 tons per hectare, a dramatic change from the days when the ‘best’ farmers obtained maximum yields of less than 2 tons per hectare.