Women rice farmers, Banjul. Courtesy of Saloum Sheriff Janko

Local Gambian IPS journalist Saloum Sheriff Janko visited the 7th IFAD Regional Forum in Banjul last month. Read his interviews and impressions below. More stories about smallholder farmers from the region in English and in French on the IPS news-site. IPS prepared a special TerraViva for distribution in Banjul and you can read it here in English or French.

As the leader of a women’s organisation of 52 smallholder farmers, Hajara Ibrahim Tamaiko, 58, knows all too well the challenges facing farmers in northern Ghana.

While there may be a number of organisations willing to help women smallholder farmers like herself, many ask for project proposals or business plans which, she told IPS, rural women have no knowledge of.

Tamaiko, whose failed microfinance business led her into farming, said that she only began adding value to her produce after receiving the necessary training from an organisation that did not require a business plan from her.

“With the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) projects in northern Ghana, they give you lots of assistance and training once they knew you are serious,” she said.

Now she processes the vegetables and fruits she grows into juice.

“Before I used to earn nearly 200 dollars, but now I earn more than that (500 dollars) and I am able to care for my family,” Tamaiko said.

But, she said, more investment was needed to develop agriculture on the continent.

“More investment is needed … especially in the areas of marketing, financing the poor farmers who are coming up with out strong financial support and to build a better road network linking farmers to the various markets. If these problems are solved, African farmers are potentially strong enough to address food shortages and poverty reduction,” Tamaiko said.

Farming organisations from West and Central Africa agreed.

Mohamed Lamin Fayinkeh, president of the National Coordinating Organization for Farmers Association of the Gambia, a farmer’s network that consists of 11 organisations, told IPS that governments needed to invest more to increase food production and thereby eradicate poverty in the region.

He said that access to finance was one of the main challenges farmers faced since there were few agricultural investment banks in Africa.

“Banks and micro finance sectors in the Gambia demand high interest rates from farmers, which has discouraged many farmers from taking out loans to invest in agriculture,” Fayinkeh said.

Ides de Willebols, West and Central Africa division director for IFAD, speaking at the organisation’s 7th Regional Forum in Banjul from Nov. 12 to 15, the Gambia, said that economic activity in West and Central African countries was partly driven by agriculture, which employs 60 percent of a country’s economically-active population.

“However, agriculture’s contribution to growth in West and Central African has generally been less than its share of overall GDP, and given its large share of employment, labour productivity is low compared to the emerging services and manufacturing sectors.

“Approximately three quarters of the rural population of the Gambia is classified as poor. Despite progress in recent years, the country is still burdened with widespread and persistent rural poverty, particularly among women and young people,” Willebols noted.