By Pius Sawa
Farmers in Gunjur, The Gambia have started benefitting from an initiative led by two local youth: a climate-smart farm providing skills to help farmers increase agricultural production that has declined as a result of recent changes in climatic conditions.
Muhammad Mustapha Jammeh and Wuyeh Jobe met as Mastercard Foundation Scholars at Ashesi University College, selected for the scholarship based on their academic talent, social consciousness, and leadership qualities. As fellow changemakers, they started discussing the idea of creating a social venture that would help farmers cope with long dry seasons, erratic rainfall, and unpredictable weather conditions that have caused many families to suffer from food shortages.
“We were worried about the future of our food security system,” said Wuyeh. “A year after gaining admission into Ashesi University, it dawned on us that many people in The Gambia, especially youth, are shying away from agriculture. In fact, when we gained admission to Ashesi, we were super excited that we would get the chance to run away from the farm, finally! But after that realization, we asked ourselves: Who else is going to do the job for us?”
Committed to ending hunger, Wuyeh and Muhammad created GamFruits, a hub where farmers can gather to discuss matters affecting their daily farm practices, as well as a centre for outdoor learning that also produces and sells healthy, nutritious, and affordable fruits to members of the community.
Groundnut, cassava, maize, rice, watermelon, and vegetables such as onion, lettuce, and pepper are commonly grown crops in The Gambia. However, many farmers are financially ruined, often going hungry when their crops fail or forced to travel great distances to fetch water from wells to irrigate their crops.
In summer 2017, Muhammad and Wuyeh tested their social venture on a parcel of leased land, examining their efforts and projecting the growth of production and sales. Now, GamFruits is ready to start full operations in early 2019.
“We did not have our own land yet and so we grew crops that take a shorter time to mature, like groundnuts and beans. This marked GamFruits’ first on-the-ground exercise to improve food security. It was from this exercise that we defined roles for each of the members based on our strengths and educational background,” said Wuyeh.
For instance, Wuyeh is leveraging his studies in computer science at Ashesi University College to create software that helps GamFruits collect and digitize important agricultural data. Muhammad, who studies business administration, is applying his skills to access markets for the crops produced.
Using proven techniques that are both productive and environmentally friendly, GamFruits is avoiding the use of chemicals that affect soil and crops. It is also encouraging farmers to discuss the challenges they face and come up with solutions as they gain skills to improve their productivity and income. Reliable and up-to-date information on best practices will be digitized to attract youth because they have access to smart phones and computers unlike the older farmers who are mostly computer illiterate.
“We want to leverage technology and set the precedent for digitizing and disseminating agricultural information in our community. Digitizing information will help existing and upcoming youth farmers to be more productive in their farming practices,” said Wuyeh.
Wuyeh added that GamFruits also provides practical training to primary and junior school students.
“We want to provide hands-on experience in farming to students in our community to help them put into practice what they learn in their agricultural science classes. The goal is to help youth see the beauty and value of agriculture.”
Each year, GamFruits will work with 25 farmers from the community in Gunjur and will use part of the money generated from the sale of fruits to roll out the program to other communities across the country.
“All GamFruits activities will be funded from the production and sale of fruits. There is tons of open-source information on agriculture on the web. Our job is to fish out relevant information that suits our local context and organize it to share with farmers. Also, from our activities, we will be recording and organizing data and insights and adding them to the database of information that will be made available to local farmers in a way they can understand,” said Muhammad.
GamFruits won the Resolution Social Venture Challenge in 2018, a competition that rewards compelling leadership and promising social ventures led by youth. These young leaders earned a fellowship that includes seed funding, mentorship, and access to a network of young global change-makers to pursue impactful projects in their communities. A collaboration between the Mastercard Foundation and The Resolution Project, the Resolution Social Venture Challenge provides a pathway to action for socially responsible young leaders who want to create change that matters in their communities.
“From the outset, we did not just want to teach climate-smart best practices in farming,” said Muhammad. “We wanted to immerse ourselves in the practice, learn together with farmers, and provide insights that will aid farmers to be more productive. We wanted to do all these things while contributing to our current food needs and training the next generation of youth to see farming as a lucrative venture. We’re excited to see how farmers will benefit from these efforts!”