The Gambia is facing a deteriorating food and nutrition crisis in 2015. At the end of May, ECHO reported that across the Sahel close to 7.5 million people required emergency food assistance1 – a figure of a similar order to the last major regional crisis in the Sahel in 2012, and demonstrating the urgent need for emergency response, particularly as the region enters its annual lean season (typically June to September).
The Gambia – ranked as a least-developed, low-income, food-deficit country with high poverty and low human development – has a predominantly subsistence agrarian economy. Poverty levels remain high, with 55% of the population living on less than USD 2 per day and 18% considered food insecure according to WFP. Rain-fed subsistence agriculture is the main source of livelihood for the majority of the population.
In 2014, The Gambia suffered from both late onset of rains and rain deficits, which led to late maturity of crops and a significant dry spell negatively affecting agriculture, particularly rice fields. Crop production was drastically reduced in comparison to that of the previous season (down 19% according to the Cadre Harmonisé2 ) and against five-year averages, with cereal, rice and groundnut harvests particularly affected. Many Gambian farmers now lack seeds and are unable to replant their fields, while there are also reports of depleted soil fertility, and a prevalence of salinity in rice growing areas.
While markets are functioning and provide enough supply for household consumption, across the country households are affected by low purchasing power due to the poor harvest. Food prices have continued to increase, mainly due to the reduction in cereal production, and the unfavourable exchange rate of the Dalasi against major currencies. From January 2014 to March 2015 there were increases in the prices of coarse grains (millet 28%, maize 44% and sorghum 50%), rice both local (33%) and imported (49%), findo (102%) and of other basic food stuffs.