|L-R Sainey Marenah and Kerri Nanni|
The last stars could still be visible when women growers in Mandinaring, a village in Kombo North, would set-out to their gardens, paving their way through a shadowy narrow-path, using their naked bulb.
“Why are you gardening?” a question that flirts the women as they put-up broad smiles in amusement before replying: “Our garden provides us income in order to pay our children’s school fees and put food on the table.”
Agriculture, indeed, is the most important activity in The Gambia. It plays a significant role in the socio-economic development of the country as food and feed provider, employer and income earner.
Several official and non-official reports have it that agriculture sector employs over 75 percent of the population and contributes about 19 percent of GDP, generates 85 percent of foreign exchange and earning and 40 percent of total earnings.
Yet the activity is subsistence based with little diversification and mainly relies on short-term rain-fed agriculture with food self-sufficiency ratio of about 50 percent.
Although crop production is dependent on rainfall, nonetheless, horticulture provides all-year-round activity and it is rapidly emerging as one of the key sectors of The Gambia economy.
According to the Country Research Report (2009), horticulture contributes 4 percent of GDP and employs over 65 percent of agricultural labour force.
And women are found to be in the forefront even while working under limiting environment.
In Mandinaring for instance, women are the ones who toil on the ground under the scorching sun making the best of the land they have at their disposal.
The garden they work on is not protected from hungry animals that regularly eat away the fruit of their hardship and investment.
The 200 hectre garden is half-way fenced, thanks to the support of some philanthropists who according to the women, run out of funds to complete the fencing project. The unfenced part is what is forcing the women to stay in the garden late in the night to guard their garden against animal assault.
“We usually stay here [at the garden] till late in the night,” explained one woman who went on to narrate how she recently collapsed into tears after the cows eat up her garden produce the very day she wanted to harvest.
According to the women, the 200 hectre is divided among the village women, but the space allocated could not accommodate every village women.
Yet, about half of the garden is not exploited because the land is dry and irrigation water has to be lifted from a well some 100 metres away. There are only 20 wells.
“My designated plot of land is over there,” a woman pointed at an unreasonable distance away from the well. “I am unable to utilise it because the well is very far away.”
Another factor limiting the production range of women is due to lack of skills and knowhow on the production of new varieties. Skill seems to be severely limited among these women, who are mainly unlettered and are underexposed to improved technologies.
“Would you like to learn how to do gardening?” another obvious question that was met with an overwhelming ‘Yes’.
Women also decried lack of market to sell their produces as they have to travel down to Serrekunda market where they would face with yet another daunting challenge.
“When we go to Serekunda market, the municipal police would collect the fee from us yet they would not give us place to sell,” said Binta. “Instead, we would be sent away.”
Binta explained how one of the women from the village met her untimely death sometime ago in Serrekunda market.
“She was hit by a car and died,” she explained. Another one, she said, was also hit by car, but maimed for life.
Moreover, given that there is no storage facility to keep-fresh their quick-to-perish produce for a reasonable time, the women are compelled to sell their goods at give-away prices despite huge investment of time and labour in improved production activities.
In summing-up, the working condition of these women growers is such that there is no assurance of good returns for their hardships: the level of production per hectare is low; the market is still beyond their reach; there is adequate water supply, and the price of the commodities not commensurate with the labour put into the production.
And yet, the incomes of these women go to the feeding and welfare of their families. They pay for the education of their children, doing their best to send both the boys and girls to schools.
Despite the numerous challenges, these women are even optimistic that with some form of help such as provision of adequate water supply and fencing of the garden, the living condition of people in the village would be greatly improved.