The Gambia is a least developed and low-income, food-deficit country with a predominantly subsistence agrarian economy. It is ranked 155th out of 177 countries in the 2006 United Nations Human Development Index with 69 percent of the population living below the poverty line.
Poor households have limited access to basic food commodities and domestic food production meets only 50 percent of the national food requirements.
The latest national nutrition survey (2005) by the National Nutrition Agency (NaNA), rated acute malnutrition at 7 percent and stunting at 17.8 percent; micronutrient deficiencies are a severe problem especially amongst children.
Crop harvest have experienced two years of decline with the 2007- 2008 harvest representing a decline of 35 percent from 2005- 2006, and the price for the staple food, rice, has increased by 39 percent from January 2008. In addition, fuel prices have been increased by ten percent in May 2008.
The Government is committed to achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) but has significant resource constraints and is highly indebted.
Overall WFP provides guidance and assistance on issues related to hunger nation wide. It assists in identifying those who are most vulnerable and in developing actions to reduce it and mitigate against future vulnerabilities.
Current activities include working with the government in responding to the food and financial crisis, the operation of a nation wide food for education program and in providing emergency assistance to Senegalese refugees and their host communities.
The food for education project ‘Support to Basic Education in Rural Vulnerable Regions’ provides a daily nutritious meal to children in rural primary schools and early childhood development centers in food-insecure rural areas of the country. Apart from providing meals for children the aim is to contribute to increasing both enrolment and completion rates, and maintain attendance and reduce drop out rates in targeted schools.
It also aims to improve the learning environment in schools and to strengthen the government’s capacities to effectively manage and sustain a school feeding program in the future. WFP also helps in the improvement of essential school infrastructure, in health and nutrition education, the development of school gardens and the greater involvement of the community.
Under this Food for Education project, run through the Department of Education, food assistance is provided for up to 120,000 children in 128 Early Childhood Development Centres (ECDCs), 308 Primary Schools and 27 government recognized Madrassas. This current program of support is from August 2007 until July 2011.
The government widely recognizes the significance of the Food For Education project in boosting enrolment, attendance and retention rates in rural schools. It is also being seen as a vital national wide safety-net intervention for rural areas during these periods of heightened food insecurity.
WFP is also currently initiating an emergency support operation ‘Assistance to Senegalese Refugees and Host Communities in The Gambia’. The operation was launched in February 2007, as a follow-on project from a rapid emergency response initiated in October 2006. The project aims to prevent food insecurity amongst Senegalese refugees as a result of being displaced, as well as to protect and prevent deterioration of host population’s livelihood due to the refugee influx.
This operation is providing support for up to 7,000 refugees through general food distributions meeting their daily food needs and though support to the Gambian hosting populations, around 6,000 persons, during the lean season via food-for-work activities.
The refugees come from the Casamance region of Senegal and have sought refuge in 47 host communities in the Gambia. Frequently reported clashes between the Senegalese army and rebel factions within the Casamance region and along the border continue to prevent the refugees from returning home. The insecure situation and dangers also prevents those Gambian farmers living along the Senegalese border adjacent to the Casamance from working on their lands.
In addition, the crop harvest for the previous two years have been the worst in 5 years and, together with the problems due to the rising food prices, this has overstretched the coping mechanisms of the refugees and their hosts who live in some of the most vulnerable and food insecure areas.
Food for work on community asset development activities started in June 2008 in for the 47 host communities to provide support to them during the period in which food is most scarce. A variety of agricultural activities, environmental sanitation and infrastructure projects such as communal farms site clearing establishment of woodlots, reforestation, digging of pit latrines and construction of refugee houses are currently being supported under this intervention.