The Gambia: Enhancing resilience in coastal communities vulnerable to climate change

Dec 1, 2015

Overhead tank with solar power system; note the bore in the fore and the two tube wells in light brown on either side of overhead tank. Credits: UNDP

Rice has long been a way of life for communities along Gambia’s coast—it has been both a crucial staple crop for families’ diets, as well as a primary source of income.

But in recent decades, climate change and overdevelopment have combined to endanger the viability of rice and thus the livelihoods of many rural Gambians. Sea level rise is eroding coastal embankments and introducing salt water into rice paddies, while overpopulation and an increase in industry are leading to harmful congestions of drainage systems that further damage ecosystems.

In particular, five coastal communities—Misera village, Bintang village, Bondali-Tendaa village, Illiasa village and Tubakolon village—watched sea levels rise to salinate estuaries, leading to salt intrusion that destroyed rice farms. On average, 96.24 ha of arable land has been lost to salt intrusion in each community. Women were hit hardest—rice cultivation and vegetable farming are largely viewed as the traditional livelihood activities for women.

To help these communities, UNDP and the Global Environment Facility partnered with Gambia’s National Environment Agency and communities on a coastal resilience project to develop alternative livelihoods. Following consultations with communities and experts, the communities chose to transition from rice cultivation to horticulture as a primary source of income. One farm was selected for each community.

Five existing gardens were extended to an average size of 5 ha. An average of 900 m of salt-resistant fences (made of galvanized poles and wires) were provided for each project site. Solar powered irrigation systems provided each project site with 80 m3 of water a day. And a 14x6 m multipurpose building was built on each project site. These buildings contain: a naturally-cooled storage area for vegetables; an open hall to be used as a playground for children; a kitchen; a toilet and shower facilities; and a rainwater harvesting system attached to the building’s roof. Beneficiaries are also currently being trained in producing and marketing organic fertilizer.

These efforts are all helping to provide sustainable livelihoods for these women and their families, as well as helping to empower women economically, as the horticulture creates more income generating activities by increasing the number of plots they oversee.

“Now no woman in Bondali will be left without more than enough space to grow crops,” says Mr. Lamin Barrow, a gardener in Bondali village.

Another beneficiary, Ms. Kaddy Gibba, a gardener in Misera village, adds that, “We always had water problem before this project, but this is history now. Now we can plant all year-round.”

Previously, horticulture had been difficult to maintain because monkeys, goats, sheep and sometimes cattle would enter the gardens and destroy the crops. But with the fencing added to the extended gardens, those crops are now kept safe, allowing beneficiaries to expect higher incomes from their produce.

“We can now sleep knowing our crops will not be destroyed by animals,” says Ms. Aja Kaddy Janneh, a local leader in Tubakolon.

Overall, 736 people from the five villages have benefitted from the farms, with 663 of those being women. Plans are in the works to identify and remove barriers to the development of horticulture value chains in coastal communities. The project will end in 2017.

“The support given to the communities will go a long way towards enhancing their resilience to climate change,” says Mr. Ousman Sowe, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Forestry, Water and Wildlife.

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