My first day in the rice fields in the Upper River Region of The Gambia, where I worked from sunrise until sunset with my family to transplant the food that would nourish us for the year to come. We worked until exhaustion, the young and the old, children on break from school and elders on break from prayers. Never have I ever experienced backbreaking work like this for such little reward- a small yield of rice for a family. Such is life in West Africa, and this was the day I became a part of it.

By: FOA Banjul Office Communication Unit 

In the Gambia, malnutrition is a major health issue. In four of the seven regions of the country (Basse, Janjangbure, Kuntaur, and Mansa Konko), eight percent of the population are food insecure or highly vulnerable to food insecurity, with the most vulnerable groups being women and children. 

Statistics indicate that food insecurity increased from 8 percent in 2016 to 13.4 percent in 2021. It disproportionately affects rural households (23.9 percent) more than urban ones (10.8 percent). 

Food insecurity was highest in Central River Region (CRR) ranging between 24.1 and 29.8 percent, followed by Lower River Region (LRR) and West Coast Region (WCR) at 15.8 percent each. Locally produced food in these areas does not last more than six months. Moreover, since the Gambia is largely dependent on rainfall with only five percent of land under cultivation equipped with irrigation, most rural poor households must face a two-to-four-month lean period during the rainy season, when supplies must be obtained on a cash basis or by barter.

“The malnutrition rate is still unacceptably high in The Gambia and we need to invest more to make sure we meet the World Health Organisation and the SDGs targets,” said Dr. Amat Bah, Executive Director at the National Nutrition Agency (NaNA) in The Gambia. 

“There have been some levels of investments and over the years, we have seen that some of the nutritional challenges subsided. From our data, we recorded an encouraging reduction in stunting and wasting, as well as a decrease in children and women anemia.”  

Dr. Bah is optimistic that with the right investment at the right time and with the use of the right tools the country should be able to achieve some progress on the nutrition front. 

“This investment is very important, and for the European Union and other partners to continue supporting the Gambia to make sure there are appropriate nutritional interventions,” he said. 

The data was recently published by FAO under the Gambia Food System profile, which summarises the results of a global food system assessment conducted in 2021 in close partnership with the Government of the Gambia through the Ministry of Agriculture, the European Union Delegation in The Gambia and the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD).  

The findings of the assessment concluded that Gambia’s agri-food systems require more nutrition-sensitive interventions to improve food security. In particular, it highlighted a need to mainstream food and nutrition into sectoral policies and plans as well as create nutrition-sensitive interventions. Other measures such as nutrition-based processing in value addition systems were also encouraged. Equally, scaling up nutrition-focused homegrown school feeding programs as well as nutrition campaigns to promote behavioral changes were suggested. 

The Gambia has already made progress through policy measures to improve nutrition. Specifically, the EU-funded Food Fortification Project has helped make significant gains in that area.

“The launch of the Food Fortification Regulation on 7 July 2021, making it mandatory to fortify wheat flour, edible fats, oils, and salt is a huge step in ensuring the nutritious level of foods,” said Moshibudi Rampedi, FAO Country Representative in the Gambia.

Similarly, through the coordination of The Gambia Standards Bureau, new standards were implemented for fortified wheat flour, fortified edible oils and fats, and iodized salt. Furthermore, biofortified maize, orange-fleshed sweet potato, cassava, and iron-rich cowpea were successfully piloted in selected communities where over 10 000 beneficiaries including women of reproductive age, children under five years, and adolescent girls and boys benefitted from these biofortified crops.

FAO, the European Union, and other partners need to work together in strengthening the nexus between food systems and nutrition. To this end, FAO and partners continue to support national food systems in the coordination of dialogues among all stakeholders (state actors and non-state actors including Civil Society Organisations, academia, and others) in finding local and practical solutions to improving national food systems. Link of the Gambia Food System profile: https://www.fao.org/3/cb9542en/cb9542en.pdf 

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