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A green transformation that is a golden opportunity for women in The Gambia

Satou Secka, Awa Ndow and their female neighbours in the village of Kataba Omar, are taking the lead in a revolution. Amid the dusty dry lands of their water-starved rural community in The Gambia, there's a 3,600-metre square patch of luscious green filled with tomatoes, okra, mint and more. The women have transformed the land with a solar irrigation project, producing high-value crops that are boosting nutrition levels for their families, generating a new income for the women and fuelling a new age of budding entrepreneurialism.

Each morning and evening the women come to the site, many with babies on their backs, to water their plots from the waist-high troughs scattered among the plots. Their produce is harvested as needed for family meals with any surplus sold at the village 'lomo' or market. For the first time the women have access to cash, are able to save and are allowing themselves to dream big for the future.

"Since we have had the vegetable garden, I haven't had to buy any produce – I just come and gather what I need home and take it home and cook it," said Ms Secka who can't be sure but estimates she is less than thirty years old and has three small children. "Before I didn't work at all so I didn't have any income – this has made a big difference for me."
"I'm saving my money for a goat as an enterprise – so I can breed and have a business," she added, speaking in Wolof and seated in the shade beneath two large water tanks perched on a concrete tower that she helped to build along with the other women involved in the project.

Climate change is destroying livelihoods in The Gambia, where the majority of the country's rural residents are engaged in rain-fed agriculture, making them vulnerable to changing rainfall patterns, rising temperatures and water shortages. Across the country, some 166 climate-related investments have enabled rural communities to finance locally identified and actioned adaptation projects, using the Local Climate Adaptive Living Facility or LoCAL approach designed and managed by UN Capital Development Fund. In Kataba Omar, the community vegetable garden is creating new opportunities for the women who are developing a whole bunch of new skills.

Ms Secka's sister-in-law Awa Ndow also has a plot in the enclosed garden. She takes pride in the irrigation project, not least because she carried the water and mixed the cement for the water tower. And, she's contributing a small amount of money from her vegetable sales each month to the upkeep of the facility – the water pump, solar panels, fencing and water tanks that have made it possible for them to create this gardening oasis. With an eye to the future, Ms Ndow is keen that her three children benefit most from her labours.

"I'm saving for my children for later – it's for them," said Ms Ndow, bouncing her youngest who is less than two years old on her lap. "My husband is very happy as I now have a job and I am helping to support the family."

As well as learning how to mix cement and rig up fencing, skills that Ms Secka felt empowered her in the community, she has a bank account for the first time where she is saving money. She is also able to access her account through an app on her mobile phone and pay for small items - including her breakfast of bread and tea when she's working at the vegetable garden. Like her neighbours, she received financial literacy training as part of the project. It's helping her to manage the money she earned from her participation in the 'cash for work' activities when she helped build the site as well as handle the profits from her surplus vegetable sales.

While Ms Secka and Ms Ndow and their neighbours are able to keep their plots verdant and green, all about them the land it parched and sandy. It's mid-June and the fields that should soon burst to life with the groundnut harvest are still dry and dusty. Climate change here means that the rainy season is not as reliable as it was a generation ago; rains come later and are shorter or 'broken' – they start and stop, falling in sometimes heavy bursts. Livelihoods are suffering and it's the women who are bearing the brunt.

"All health issues, environment issues - all pandemics that come - hit women harder," said Ms Rohey John-Manjang, Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Natural Resources speaking from her office in the capital Banjul, where soaring outside temperatures force her to keep her windows shuttered to natural light. "Because we [women] are more vulnerable... and our attention to the family is far greater," she said.

Ms John-Manjang supports the LoCAL approach to community-led adaptation and last year volunteered as a LoCAL Ministerial Ambassador to call for increased finance for adaptation using the UNCDF-designed mechanism.

"If you are working at the local level, the grassroots level, you are targeting those that are highly vulnerable to all the impacts that is around that community. So having women to design, to implement and support initiatives of the LoCAL climate change projects is very, very timely and is also one of the best objectives in making sure that climate change finance is reaching the lowest level, the beneficiaries have ownership and it benefits the largest chunk [of the population]," said Ms John-Manjang.

Since 2018, LoCAL has been implemented through the Jobs Skills and Finance for the Women and Youth in The Gambia Programme, a joint action from UNCDF and the International Trade Centre. Financing from the European Union recently came to an end, but the government is committed to maintaining activity, including with limited national resources.

Back in Kataba Omar, Awa Ndow, displays a selection of produce she's grown on her 20-metre square plot before heading off to the local market to make a few sales. She worked as a supervisor on the garden construction and now she's making sure that the project can self-sustain.

"The money we make we are doing some continuation," said Ms Ndow. "Every month each person will contribute 10 Dalasi [about 17 US cents] in case of emergency and for repairs," she said, adding: "We don't want the garden to stop."

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF).
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