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Ministry of Agriculture and FAO boost Livestock Services extension delivery in rural Gambia

APFS facilitators during a practical training session in URR, Photo credit: ©FAO

On 3rd May, 2019, the Department of Livestock Services and FAO held the maiden graduation ceremony of the first batch of Agro-pastoral Field School (APFS) facilitators ever trained in The Gambia.  They successfully completed a course on APFS methodology, design, implementation, and evaluation that took place at  the Agricultural Rural Farmer Training Centre in Jenoi, LRR. It was presided over by Demba Jallow, Director General, Department of Livestock Services and Foday Jadama, Regional Agricultural Director for CRR North (deputizing for the Director General of the Department of Agriculture). The climax of the event was the presentation of Certificates of Participation to all the 50 APFS facilitators who completed the three-week intensive training facilitated by Ms Jenniffer Hire, an international  Farmer Field Schools expert. .

The newly formed facilitators comprise livestock extension workers, livestock owners and existing crop Farmer Field School facilitators from URR, CRR North and CRR South, NBR and LRR. Each participant will establish an APFS in their respective communities to train 30 livestock farmers on improved livestock husbandry and management practices. This will in turn produce 1,500 APFS facilitators who will meet periodically to draw lessons and share best practices and provide supervision and coaching on improved livestock husbandry and management practices. The Gambia College/UTG Animal Welfare Advocacy Drama Group also held the gathering spellbound with a captivating play highlighting the power of APFS approach in improving food security and nutrition, and reducing rural poverty.

The training is part of an initiative by the the Ministry of Agriculture, in close partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), to enhance veterinary extension service delivery and farmer capacities, both considered vital for the development of the livestock sub-sector. It is part of a $15 million project funded by the European Union entitled “Agriculture for Economic Growth and Nutrition/Food Security to Mitigate Migration Flows”, whose overall objective is to contribute to sustainable growth in the agricultural sector and reduce food insecurity and malnutrition in order to create an enabling environment for improved economic growth. This project aims to invest in a market stimulation approach to provide the pull factor that drives commercialization of production.  

Call for teamwork and concrete results

The various speakers at the event reminded the APFS facilitators of the huge task at hand and challenged them to measure up to expectations to make the livestock sector more vibrant and sustainable. They underscored the need for the APFS facilitators to complement the livestock extension workers, and not to compete with them to enable them to provide the required technical backstopping for the realization of the desired objectives of the APFS approach.

Jalamang Touray, an APFS facilitator said, “FAO has played its part, we have a huge role to play to help change mindsets and farming practices to enhance the contribution of the livestock sub-sector to national development”. Tumbul Jobe, Representative of the Chief of Jarra West District congratulated the graduants and partners for their achievement.

Alieu Sowe, the Coordinator of NACOFAG, said that they were pleased with the initiative. He noted that extension agents (crops & livestock) and farmers are important stakeholders in increasing the production and productivity of the agriculture sector. He urged all to disseminate the knowledge and skills acquired within their respective communities. He also encouraged networking and collective participation.

Ebrima O. Jallow, the President of the National Livestock Owners Association (NaLOA) expressed appreciation to FAO for involving the livestock farmers in the APFS approach. He said, “It is time for the country to be food self-sufficient”. Jallow enjoined the APFS facilitators to work with the regional livestock directors and field staff. He also challenged the directors to ensure the APFS facilitators do what they have been trained for.

Foday Jadama, Regional Agricultural Director for CRR North, deputizing for the Director General of Agriculture, thanked all those who contributed to the success of the training. He stressed that they (Regional Directors) will work towards ensuring that the knowledge and skills acquired are put to good use.

Jadama called for collaboration and partnership. He said. “We are not competing but instead complementing each other. We should collaborate to enhance production and productivity.  Crops productivity cannot be achieved without livestock and the vice visa. The two are like a phone and the sim card. Both crops and livestock benefit from each other’s bi-products”. Climate change induced hazards leading to crops failure leave farmers vulnerable and with no other option but to resort to selling their livestock to take care of their basic needs”.

Fafa Cham of the DLS applauded FAO for the intervention noting that it will greatly impact veterinary extension services delivery.  He said, “This will contribute to improved lives and livelihoods. The 2016 National Livestock Census showed that there were only 72 veterinary assistants throughout the country. He told the APFS facilitators that whoever fails to deliver will be expelled from the group.

Demba Jallow, Director General, DLS, reaffirmed his commitment to work with the APFS facilitators to improve the lives and livelihoods of farmers. He reiterated the need for tolerance, patience and commitment. “Let us work with farmers to effect the desired impact”, he stressed.

Perpetua Katepa Kalala, FAO Country representative in a statement read by Louise Agathe Yaccine Tine, Programme Officer at FAO underlined the importance of agriculture and livestock sectors to the Gambian economy. She expressed optimism that the intervention will have  a positive impact on livestock extension services delivery, and that the APFS concept would be fully institutionalized and supported by the Government.  The FAO Representative  thanked the European Union for entrusting its resources to FAO and WFP for the implementation of the project.

The Gambia livestock sector contributes about 8.6 percent to the GDP and 29.6 percent to the overall Agricultural GDP. The sub-sector is a major employer and contributor to food security and nutrition for many households especially those in the rural areas. Despite its enormous economic and social benefits, the livestock production method is still mainly traditional, characterized by low investment and largely dependent on natural vegetation and water bodies for feed and water respectively. This makes livestock very vulnerable to diseases especially with the advent of climate change. The outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease in 2018, marked by high morbidity and mortality, was closely linked to lack of feed during the long dry season and the late onset of rains. The Livestock sub-sector faces a range of constraints which include (i) high veterinary extension staff to farmer ratio (of more than 1:1000), (ii) inadequate disease surveillance mechanisms and personnel, (iii) inadequate capacity for extension service delivery, (iv) high incidence of diseases, (v) inadequate feed resources and many more. APFS are expected to strengthen local capacities to address the myriad of challenges confronting the livestock sub-sector.