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Food Shortages In The Gambia - 2002-08-26

In The Gambia, the government has announced a major food shortage and crop failure in the country. This follows a low rainfall, which resulted in a complete failure in rice production. Rice is Gambia's main stable food and observers say the crop failure is having a devastating impact on the lives of ordinary Gambians.

Government health facilities report many cases of malnutrition, with children bearing the brunt of the problem. The government says it needs $27 million United States dollars in order to deal with the food crisis.

Addressing a news conference, Gambian Vice President Isatou Njie Saidy expressed grave concern over the country's poor rainfall. She describes the impact of the the lack of rain on Gambia's agricultural sector.

She says, " The general conclusions from the assessments are as follows. A general failure in crop production as follows, rice upland and swamp nearly 100 percent loss. Early millet and maize about 60 percent and groundnuts about 40 percent."

Apart from tourism, agriculture is Gambia's main source of income, accounting for 40 percent of export earnings. The agricultural sector employs about 70 percent of the country's work force. Therefore, the vice president says any decline in agricultural production would increase poverty in the Gambia.

The Vice President says, "Food stocks with farmers have fallen very low with complete depletion in most areas and with low cash reserves. Most families are now experiencing lengthened hungry season. Further more the failure in early maturing crops such as millet and maize is already resulting in price escalation in most areas with serial prices in the peak."

Children are bearing the biggest brunt of the current situation as malnutrition cases are said to be on the increase in government health facilities.

She says, "Implications for the education sector. Low food intakes of course affects the physical and mental well-being of the population particularly the most vulnerable groups namely women and children. For example school-going children will suffer from mental retardation and hence diminish the human potential of the young, the future leaders of this country."

The current crisis is also affecting livestock. The livestock are starving due to a lack of grass and drinking water. Many local wells are beginning to dry up.

The government says it has come up with a plan to deal with the crisis. But it says it needs 27 million U-s dollars to implement it. It is appealing to the donor communities to come to the county's aid.