Lack of seeds threatens long-term food security in Gambia

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By Hler GudJonsson, Icelandic Red Cross, in The Gambia

“We are now among the poorest households in the village,” says Keba Kambi, an inhabitant of Karantaba village in lower river region, in The Gambia. “When I was strong and healthy, I never thought there would come a time when I would be unable to support my family. Normally, we sell our groundnut crop and use the money to buy other types of food, but this time the harvest failed completely, and I am too old to secure our livelihood by any other means. We used to own goats and chickens, but now there is not a single animal left. The last goat was slaughtered by thieves a few weeks ago, and I have nothing left to sell. We don’t even have the seeds we need to secure a harvest in the coming season.”

His whole life, Keba has lived in Karantaba village. He is 82-years-old and has become too frail to work himself. He has 15 children, but seven of them are now adults living in other communities, which means that Keba depends on his wives and remaining children to put food on the table and do all the necessary farm work.

“All seven of my grown up children have already left the village to look for work, but they are still unemployed and cannot help us. One has become an apprentice but he cannot spare any money to send home,” he says.

Fortunately most of Keba’s remaining children are old enough to help the family and they still go to school in the morning. When they come home in the afternoon they gather seasonal wild fruit to fill their empty stomachs and then go to work in the fields in preparation for the planting season.

The lack of seeds is the most serious aspect of the food security situation in The Gambia. Distribution of food is necessary to secure that the hardest hit families have food on the table until the harvest season starts in October. However, most important for the long-term livelihood of Gambian farmers is the provision of seeds and fertilizer by the Gambia Red Cross Society. Without this assistance, many people will not be able to plant their fields, plunging them into another year of serious shortage. Other similar disasters have shown that a prolonged food shortage and a lack of variety in the diet will have serious consequences for the nutrition status of children under 5 years of age.

The village is not far from the sea, but Keba’s boat is on land and has not been used for a long time. “When I was younger I used every opportunity to go fishing, and we would have plenty of fish to eat with the rice and millet that we grow ourselves. Now we have no proper food to put on the table except when I receive a few cups from old friends as charity. On days when we enjoy one proper meal I praise my good fortune.”

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has launched an emergency appeal to help The Gambia Red Cross Society to respond to the food crisis. The operation aims to distribute food, seeds and fertilizer to more than 5000 of the most vulnerable farmer households in six regions of The Gambia. In addition the health staff and volunteers of the Gambia Red Cross Society will conduct nutritional screening among children under five to ensure that anyone who shows signs of malnutrition receives appropriate care.