remains a major public health problem in The Gambia adversely affecting
vulnerable groups among the population, especially women of reproductive age
and children under five years mainly due to inadequate intake of micronutrients
from daily diet.
According to the 2018 Multi-cluster Indicator Survey (MICS 2018), stunting levels are at 19%, underweight at 14% and wasting prevalence at 6% for children under five years.
In a bid to help The Gambia government to sustainably address the risk of micronutrient deficiencies, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) under the European Union (EU) funded project titled: “Improving Food security and Nutrition in The Gambia Through Food Fortification” is working with relevant government institutions to promote the production and consumption of foods that are naturally rich in micronutrients or are enriched with Vitamin A through fortification.
The four-year project aims to improve the nutritional and health status of vulnerable populations suffering from micronutrient deficiencies, particularly women, girls and children in the North Bank and Central River regions, through increased consumption of micronutrient fortified foods. The project is being implemented by FAO in close partnership with the Ministry of Health (MoH), National Nutrition Agency (NaNA), Food Safety and Quality Authority (FSQA), The Gambia Standard Bureau, National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) National Seeds Secretariat (NSS), the Department of Agriculture (DoA) and private sector institutions.
The project is expected to contribute to improvements in health and nutrition indicators, especially the reduction of stunting, wasting and normal cognitive development in children, reduce anemia among women and complications during pregnancy and maternal mortality.
Since 2018, NARI, through support from FAO has been providing bio-fortified maize seed, Orange-Fleshed Sweet Potato (OFSP) vines, cassava cuttings and cowpea to selected farmers and groups in the North Bank and Central and Upper River regions for multiplication. The initiative forms part of the food based approach to combat the unacceptably high prevalence rate of micronutrient deficiencies (hidden hunger) in The Gambia in all its forms.
Several individuals and groups involved in the multiplication of the vitamin A rich crops in the project regions say they have already started to reap the benefits from the intervention. Speaking to a six-member monitoring team (comprising staff of NARI, NSS, DOA and FAO) accompanied by journalists, the farmers noted that the OFSP leaves are being consumed by householders regularly. They also said that they have been sharing and selling the vines to interested farmers and thus increasing their income. They also explained that the roots of the OFSP are being used to prepare different recipes which are highly nutritious. According to them, the introduction of the fortified crops has added more value to their main source of livelihood.
Ancha Ceesay, a female farmer and member of a 90-member women group in Mamut Fana, CRR-South said: “This project is immensely helping us now. We use part of the harvested crops for family consumption and sell the other part.” The women are now on a multiplication process of the Vitamin A rich orange flesh sweet potato with several harvests since the commencement of the sample planting, she declared.
Madi Ceesay, a male farmer in Mamut Fana, CRR South who received 30 kg of bio-fortified maize last May to cultivate one hectare said that the new crop will boost farmer’s production and productivity as it proves to thrive well on Gambian soil. Mr. Ceesay said he is hopeful that he would make a better harvest this year than the previous years despite the erratic rains. He commended FAO and partners for the introduction of the new crop variety, while highlighting some challenges such as the late start of the rain and weeding.
The Bio-fortification focal person at NARI, Ousman M. Jarju said he was impressed with the way the project is making changes in the lives of the rural people. He advised farmers to work closely with the agricultural extension staff to enhance production and productivity. He told the farmers that the first focus of the project is to use the crop for consumption and not marketing because they are good for fighting malnutrition. “The agreement is that when harvested, the farmers will give back the exact quantity of the seed given to them so that more farmers can have the seed variety.
The Farmer Field School (FFS) approach being promoted by the Department of Agriculture through support from FAO under the EU funded projects “Post-Crisis Response to Food and Nutrition Insecurity in The Gambia and “Agriculture of Economic Growth” are being used to scale-up the multiplication of the bio-fortified crops.
Through support from both projects, more than 11, 250 farmers were reached through the FFS through the creation of 375 Farmers Field Schools (FFS) specialised in horticulture, cereals and groundnuts under the direct supervision of the Department of Agriculture (DOA). This has helped to reduce the ratio of extension worker-to-farmer from 1:2313 to1:622. The graduation of an addition 65 FFS facilitators on 19 June [who are mainly youths] will further bring down the ratio to 1:552. Read in details in our subsequent publications.