IFAD's strategy in the Gambia
IFAD has financed nine programmes and projects in The Gambia since 1982, investing a total of US$53.6 million and directly benefiting more than 126,000 rural households. The majority of beneficiaries are women. Five of the projects were initiated by IFAD, two by the World Bank's International Development Association and two by the African Development Bank (AfDB). Seven of the projects have been cofinanced by partners, including the World Bank and the AfDB.
Moreover, The Gambia is classified as one of the world's heavily indebted low-income countries. It therefore qualifies for grant funding under IFAD's Debt Sustainability Framework. The framework is part of a unified effort by the world's biggest multilateral financial institutions to ensure that essential financial assistance does not cause undue hardship for the countries that are most in need.
IFAD interventions in The Gambia focus on agricultural and rural development, while facilitating and promoting access to microfinance. All of the projects have pursued the overall goal of reducing rural poverty by improving household food security and income, especially of smallholder farmers, women and young people, in accordance with government priorities.
Through the development of agriculture in the fertile lowlands and adjacent uplands, IFAD projects in The Gambia address poverty that is related to land and water as productive assets. Through diversification of on- and off-farm income, they aim to reduce poverty that is linked to failing markets.
The inclusion of women in decision-making and training is another priority for IFAD-supported projects in The Gambia. These projects directly target women, for instance, in lowland development to improve agriculture production, in small livestock management and vegetable production, and in access to financial services. They also target both young women and young men for on- and off-farm job opportunities, in light of the country's high rates of unemployment and underemployment and its increasing rural-urban migration rate.
Since the mid-1980s, IFAD has strongly supported rural microfinance projects in the country as a corollary to its support for agricultural development. Expansion of the village-based savings and credit association (VISACA) system has led to a more professional microfinance sector. This professionalization results from the establishment of a strong national apex body to coordinate VISACA services, as well as the creation of a microfinance department within the Central Bank and the launch of a centre to build capacity for all microfinance-related entities.
IFAD has also strongly advocated for the finalization, approval and implementation of a national microfinance strategic policy, and is reinforcing the need for further professionalization of the microfinance industry through an international technical assistance initiative.
At the same time, IFAD interventions aim to strengthen farmers' and community-based organizations, thereby empowering poor rural people to overcome poverty. IFAD works with traditional kafos, for example, to systematically tackle the economic and social exclusion of marginalized and vulnerable people in rural areas. These collectively run village groups are an effective entry point for intervention, since they are cohesive and able to mobilize vulnerable people within local communities. IFAD operations use the kafos to reach out to the most vulnerable households, enabling them to become economically empowered through peer-to-peer mentoring.
As stipulated in the country strategic opportunities paper for The Gambia, IFAD's work there has become more demand-driven in recent years, with a focus on increasing poor rural people's capacities and their participation in the planning and implementation of development interventions. IFAD-supported projects in The Gambia concentrate on innovative pilot operations with a potential for scaling up into effective, efficient and sustainable activities. Once tested and adapted, these activities have become successful models for implementation in ongoing operations by IFAD and its partners to benefit the rural poor in The Gambia, especially women and young people.
This emphasis on building upon success is especially evident in the case of the now completed Rural Finance and Community Initiatives Project, which has been scaled up into two projects: the Rural Finance Project and the Livestock and Horticulture Development Project. In addition, the completed Lowlands Agricultural Development Programme has been scaled up in the form of the Participatory Integrated-Watershed Management Project, which has reclaimed substantial cultivable lands through water control structures in the lowlands and soil conservation measures in the uplands.
By investing in The Gambia, IFAD provides leadership, attracts cofinancing and forms strategic partnerships with donors, the government, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and civil society to benefit poor rural people at the grass roots.