Gambian women cultivate nutritional food crops in a communal kitchen garden. Photo: Concern Universal
UMCOR helps to enhance food production for local farmers in Gambia by improving the quality of their soil
By David Tereshchuk*
March 3, 2016—Through a project that will improve soil, seeds, and nutritional habits in The Gambia, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is supporting local farmers in their bid to reverse some of the most harmful impacts of food insecurity in the West African country.
The Gambia, a narrow strip of land that runs along each side of the Gambia River for 300 miles, is among the most impoverished and food-insecure nations in Africa. Some 53 percent of Gambians live in extreme poverty, and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization includes the country on its list of Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries. One pervasive result of food insecurity in The Gambia is the stunting of children’s growth.
In 2014, the late onset and severe shortage of rains made matters more acute, which caused a drastic reduction in crop production, with cereal, rice, and groundnut harvests especially devastated.
Building on local farmers’ expertise
But UMCOR, together with partner Concern Universal, is supporting Gambian farmers in their efforts to improve the quality of their soil and other essential conditions and, so, enhance their ability to produce food.
"A great thing about this project is that it engages farmers as experimenters and creators of knowledge—not simply as the recipients of knowledge,” said Alice Mar, executive secretary for UMCOR Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security.
Through extensive field trials and networks of seed exchanges that enable experimenting with different crop varieties, the project will build on the wealth of expertise that farmers already possess, and offers the chance for them to further enhance their knowledge base.
“They learn even more,” said Mar, “and pass on that increased knowledge among their neighbors and the wider farming community.”
Quantity, and also quality
Mar is additionally impressed by the emphasis on improving the nutritional impact of crops. Nutrition training will accompany the agricultural work.
“It’s easy to assume that increased food production will automatically lead to improved household nutrition,” Mar pointed out, “but we have seen that this is not necessarily the case. Food consumption and nutritional status are impacted by many factors, including gender norms, cultural beliefs, dietary and hygiene practices, nutritional knowledge, and other factors.”
As part of the effort to bolster families’ health through food, UMCOR will be encouraging training to improve communities’ nutritional habits.
Among the changes to be promoted is the cultivation of kitchen gardens, where women will learn essentials of family nutrition, and themselves grow nutritious fruit and vegetables close to their homes.
“This is a wonderful way to empower women to improve their families’ health,” concluded Mar.
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*David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media critic who contributes regularly to www.umcor.org.