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Voices of farmers: FAO reaps big smiles from the farmers in The Gambia


Njoben Farmer Field School and Community Garden, Central River region, The Gambia

The first time Mariama Surr came to the community garden in Njoben, things were quite different from now. Back then, the group of women farmers she joined only had one hectare of land to grow crops on and conditions to work the land were difficult because with only one open well, access to water was very limited.
In 2013, FAO took over the garden project from Action Aid, who started it in 1980. Since then, the community garden has expanded to five hectares.
Mariama joined the community garden out of necessity and a strong will to improve her family’s livelihood, and she’s been active ever since. “With now seven grandchildren in school age, sitting at home depending on my husband was not an option”. Thanks to the produce she grows, she pays her grandchildren’s school fees and clothes all while providing a nutritious and varied diet.
The Njoben garden is considered a model garden and has improved women farmer’s incomes as well as the health of their children. The varied and biofortified crops they grow in the garden have impacted greatly on the nutrition level in the community. “We hardly see any malnourished children nowadays in our community,” Mariama proclaimed proudly. Her observations regarding the drop in child malnutrition are backed up by Multi-cluster Indicator Survey (MICS), that show that  in the Janjabureh district where Njoben is located, moderate stunting rates dropping from 33.3% in 2010 to 24.3% in 2018 and wasting has gone down from 12.7 % in 2010 to 7.4% in 2018. Severe underweight levels are down to 3.3% in 2018 from 7.8% in 2010. Although major improvement in malnutrition prevalence shows that Gambia is on the right track, micronutrient deficiency, also known as “hidden hunger”, remains a major public health concern. FAO therefore remains focused on a sustainable reduction of malnutrition in all its forms as stipulated under SDG2.
Mariama is one of the “veteran” farmers at Njoben. Over the years, she and her fellow farmers have been trained extensively by FAO experts, through various European Union (EU) funded projects, among others “Improving food security and nutrition through food fortification”.
FAO set up a Farmer Field School (FFS) demonstration site next to the garden. The space allows the more than 200 women farmers and 14 men to experiment, trying out new seeds and farming techniques they later implement in the community garden and their individual farms. As seasons become increasingly unpredictable due to climate change, FAO provides the farmers with a variety of quality, climate resilient, fast maturing seeds to achieve food and nutrition security, poverty alleviation and building resilience in the agriculture sector. Njoben garden was also selected to produce orange flesh sweet potato to reduce vitamin A deficiency in the community.
Mariama’s face lights up when speaking about all the practices she learnt regarding climate smart agriculture and good agronomic practices. Among these are composting, water management (drip irrigation), mulching and usage of animal manure, minimum tillage (increasing space around plants for more nutrients), integrated pest management and nutrition education. These practices have improved the yield and quality of the crops.
In addition to increasing farmers skills, FAO provided several improvement such as a solar powered borehole improving access to water and overhead tank, toilets, and poultry.
FAO believes that by strengthening farmers’ resilience, they can withstand and reduce the impact of climate change in their lives. The best part is that the farmers will share their learnings with their neighbours. Farmers like Mariama, are the living proof that one of the most effective ways of transferring technology and knowledge is from farmer to farmer.
 Infographic by Freya Morales based on UNICEF’s MISC reports (New one for 2020 is in the pipeline)

For more information please contact: Freya Morales Albala ([email protected]