Kerr Fatou – Kutubung Daala featuring Satoundingo of Kiang Batelling Mansa Kunda
By Dr Basil Jones, African Development Bank
Let me acknowledge Kerr Fatou and say a big thank you to the presenter of the Kutubung Daala program Fatoumatta Princess Tima Darboe. I would encourage everyone to watch the edition of this program even for someone like me with a C+ in the Mandinka language. All Gambian men must salute and respect our hard working mothers and sisters after watching this program. The program on Soutoudingo of Kiang Batelling Mansa Kunda is a testimony and demonstrated what we already know. Rural Gambian women are the hardest working in the Gambia. Yet policymakers and politicians marginalize them. This program shows that when rural Gambian women wake up in the morning they work continuously from dawn to dusk. Starting with preparing “moono” for the family, then from there they women walk 5km each way to their farms toiling the whole day and then back home to prepare dinner and then repeat the same every day and when do they have time to rest.
My heart goes out to the women on Kiang Batelling and all other Gambian women who toil the land from sunrise to sunset. This program shows that Gambian women bear a disproportionate work burden, which leads to time poverty. They make more direct and critical contributions to agriculture through labor provision (it was only women in the fields and despite all the challenges, they are happy singing and encouraging each other — in planting, weeding, postharvest processing, and marketing). Yet Gambian women farmers face many difficulties in mobilizing extra help to work on their farms, and these challenges begin in the home. Since independence, women especially rural women have been left behind and excluded. It is not a surprise that the hardest working rural women are the poorest in the country.
In addition, women have limited access to solutions in the form of labor-saving technologies, services and infrastructure as explained by the women. Poor road infrastructure, lack of health care services, lack of mobility and still using the hoe in their farms. Just imagine for one minute if the women farmers in Kiang Batelling were provided with some form of transport say “tuk tuk”. Rather than walking 10km to and from their farms spending 2 hours journey. With a motorized transport it could take them 20-30 minutes or less saving on their time use. What about if they were provided with power tillers rather than use the back breaking hoe. Work that would have taken them a whole day to complete could have been done in less than one hour. Are these difficult propositions and can they be achieved? Certainly, but women in agriculture has never been a priority for successive governments in the Gambia.
In 2015, the theme for the African Union Heads of State and Government Summit was: “2015 Year of Women Economic Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063”. Women clearly highlighted the effect on their health and the drudgery of the use of age-old hoes and other primitive farm implements, while portraying the ways in which the entire agricultural value chain is leading to youths in their communities deeming farming an unattractive prospect. At the summit, the then AU Chairperson Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma launched a campaign to “confine the hand-held hoe to the museum”. As a symbolic gesture, the Chairperson handed over a power tiller to each African Head of State and Government, with the hope that mechanization of agriculture in Africa will be achieved within the next 10 years.
Four years later in the community of Kiang Batelling, instead of the women confining the hoe to the museum and use power tiller to mechanize agriculture, the backbreaking hoe is still the farming technology being used. After 54 years of independence, Gambia have not mechanized its agriculture. It is therefore a pipe dream, if Gambian agriculture remains dependent on primitive technologies and implements like the hoe and expects to feed the teeming population and play a significant role in the international market for value-added agricultural products.
The National Development Plan will not achieve its objectives if it does not prioritize support to rural Gambian women in agriculture. In Gambia, agriculture is a very important sector contributing over 20 percent of GDP. This sector is dominated by women and Gambian women are the guardians of food security and nutrition and the represent the vast majority in the sector in Gambia. If the government of Adama Barrow does not prioritize support to women in agriculture, we will not address rural poverty.
In Gambia, we have not been able to transform agriculture because policies are not supporting hard working Gambian women who are the working poor. Agriculture is underperforming for a number of reasons. Among these is the fact that women lack the resources and opportunities they need to make the most productive use of their time. This “gender gap” hinders their productivity and reduces their contributions to the agriculture sector and to the achievement of broader economic and social development goals.
Closing the gender gap in agriculture would produce significant gains for society by increasing agricultural productivity, reducing poverty and hunger and promoting economic growth. When a woman gains more control over her income, she gains more say over important decisions that affect her family, especially her children. Families in which women influence economic decisions allocate more income to food, health, education and children’s nutrition. Improving gender equality through agriculture could therefore translate into a generation of Gambians who are better fed, better educated and better equipped to make productive contributions to their economies, within agriculture and beyond.
It is high time we stop paying lip service on economic empowerment of Gambian women. When you empower a woman – you empower a generation. Investing in women is not just the smart thing to do, it also makes economic sense. When the income of women rise the household benefits as they re-invest up to 90% of their income in their families and communities. The money goes into feeding and providing better nutrition for children, educational expenses, and in paying for doctors’ visits. Greater economic empowerment of women will go a long way in reducing stunting of children and give a greater boost to improved “grey matter infrastructure”. Hence investing in women creates multiplier effect for communities.