Article and Photos by Awa Jagne, UNCDF - LoCAL 2022
Fatoumatta Jallow, has spent most of her life working as a small-scale farmer in the increasingly drought-prone village of Kujew, located in Central River Region of The Gambia. Still only 43, Ms Jallow says she’s witnessed significant changes to rainfall patterns in her community, making it harder and harder to earn a living as a small-scale farmer – but that changed when her local government received funds for a series of locally led adaptation activities that have strengthened the community’s resilience to the impacts of climate change.
Regular periods of drought, soil erosion and increasing heat waves are taking their toll on the smallholder farmers of Kujew, a village in Banni ward some 200 km from the capital Banjul. Ms Jallow learned to farm as a child, helping her parents. But while the skills remain unchanged, the climate has not, and that had been making it increasingly difficult for Ms Jallow to produce food for her family and generate an income from surplus sales, as her parents once did.
“I’ve helped my family with our gardens ever since I was young. Rainfall back then was more frequent and there was less [soil] erosion so we were able to cultivate more crops,” said Ms Jallow, reminiscing about helping her parents farm when she was young. “Across the years, increased drought and irrigation has only made life more challenging. When I got married, I ventured into my own farming for an added source of income – [but] it was not been easy due to irrigation and soil erosion issues.”
Agriculture accounts for some 25 per cent of the Gambian economy, with most agricultural production being carried out by smallholder farmers just like Ms Jallow. Increasingly erratic rainfall and raising temperatures are forcing farmers to take stock of their practices and adapt production to meet new challenges. The Jobs Skills and Finance for Women and Youth in The Gambia Programme works to support women like Ms Jallow, through the adoption of climate resilient ventures. The JSF Programme, which is funded by the European Union and implemented by UN Capital Development Fund works with local government authorities to reduce the vulnerabilities of communities, building resilience and enabling them to adapt to the impacts of their changing climate.
The JSF Programme uses a decentralized development approach channeling finance to local governments with the Local Climate Adaptive Living Facility and its system of Performance Based Climate Resilience Grants (PBCRGs). By channeling finance to the community level, residents have the opportunity to shape how funds are allocated and help decide which investments are prioritized through community consultations. What’s more, local residents can take part in making the investments a reality, through Cash for Work initiatives, that pay them a competitive daily wage in return for their labours. As well as a temporary job and a welcome boost in income, workers also have the opportunity to develop some new skills and receive training on how to set up and run a bank account, or perhaps learn some small business development skills.
Applying the JSF Programme’s community-led development approach, Kujew community members decided to construct a solar-powered water source since the community well was climate-compromised due to limited rainfall. With improved access to a reliable source of water, local residents have increased production of high-value fruits and vegetables. The irrigated market gardens have boosted production and incomes, strengthening the ability of smallholder farmers like Ms Jallow to cope with increasingly unpredictable weather patterns associated with climate change and earn a more reliable income from her work as a smallholder farmer.
Since the completion of the water irrigation project and market garden in Kujew in 2020, the mother of four, says she has sustained herself and her family living on the profits she makes from selling the produce from her garden, better enabling her to cover her children’s school fees. Through the skills component of the JSF Programme, Ms Jallow has also learned how simple farming practices can help her maintain the fertility of her soil, like multi-cropping, which involves growing more than one produce to ensure nutrients are not stripped from the soil or pairing particular crops that ‘feed’ each other with nutrients. This has not only improved the soil health, it has led to boosted crop production meaning more profits for the Kujew native, who initially only grew vegetables but now also grows cereals and groundnuts.
As she continues to work in her garden, Ms Jallow stresses how access to water has also made life easier. Fetching water took several hours of her time—but now she has access to water right in the garden because of the new irrigation system. As part of a Cash for Work initiative, residents received a competitive daily wage for work on projects that contribute to the climate resilience of the community, including the erection of fences to keep out pests.
“Rodents and pests tend to infest local gardens and try to feed on our crops,” said Ms Jallow.
“The project enabled us to also build fences around our gardens to protect our produce. This practice has led to us sustainably continue to grow crops two years after the project has ended.”
For more information about LoCAL in The Gambia: