... --at the rl ersity f -F6oniaa
GENDER ISSUES IN FARMING SYSTEMS
RESEARCH AND EXTENSION
The Women's Program of the Gambian
Mixed Farming Project
The Women's Program of the Gambian Mixed Farming Project
Minimum Data Set
Information for the minimum data set was taken mainly from Land Resource
Study #22, The Agricultural Development of the Gambia: an agricultural,
environmental and socio-economic analysis(Dunsmore et al.,1976). This study
was conducted by the Ministry of Overseas Development.
The Gambia is an independent republic within the Commonwealth. It is one
of the smallest countries in Africa, 250 miles long and 15-30 miles wide.
Senegal surrounds the Gambia on three sides, the fourth is bordered by the
Atlantic Ocean. The Gambia is on the west coast of Africa between 1303' and
13049'N latitude and between 16048' and 13o47'W longitude. The total land area
is 10,367 sq.km. The Gambia lies within the valley of the Gambian river.
The highest point above sea level in the country is 90 m.
Temperature and Precipitation
The air temperature varies considerably throughout the country.
Temperature and diurnal variation are moderated in the west by the Atlantic
Ocean. Inland diurnal and seasonal variations are more extreme.
With regardto precipitation, the Gambia has a 7 month dry season and 5
month rainy season (June-October). The heaviest rainfall months are July and
August. Average annual rainfall is 900-1100mm. Average annual rainfall
declines south to north(2.5-5.0mm/km) and declines from the coast inland. The
rainy season is characterized by storms of 1 1/2 to 3 km diameter, thus
adjacent land areas have different rainfall over short periods. The daytime
high temperature during the rainfall months is 30-34o C.
Calculated crop evapotranspiration, assuming an albedo of 0.25, shows the
maximum use of water by irrigated crops would be in March to June with a
constant evapotranspiration(Et) rate of 3.5mm per day throughout the wet
season. The relative humidity varies considerably over a day, but there is
not a major change in vapor pressure, therefore relative humidity does not
clearly describe atmospheric moisture. Water vapor decreases in the dry
Soils of the Gambia can be divided into upland soils and bottom soils.
The characteristics of the upland soils will be discussed first. Upland soils
are gentle colluvial slopes formed from the Continental Terminal. Most of
these soils can be classified as ferruginous tropical soils. In most Gambian
soils the surface horizon is a sand or loamy sand. Subsoils are sandy clay
loams or sandy clays. In surface horizons, clay content is very low and
organic matter content.high, resulting in a fairly uniform brownish color. The
coarse sand fraction(>50024) of these soils is generally less than 10%.
Structure of these soils is not well-developed. The surface horizon pH ranges
from 5.8-6.4; subsoil is 5.0-6.0. Cation exchange capacity(CEC), the total of
exchangeable cations that a soil can absorb, ranges from 1.5-5.5meq/100g soil.
These values are very low, indicating low fertility. Principal crops of
upland soils are groundnuts, millet, sorghum, maize, and cotton.
Bottom soils are the alluvium deposits in the flood plains of the Gambian
river and its tributaries. The principal crop in these soils is rice.
Surface horizons are darker than subsurface due to organic matter. They are
commonly dark grey or greyish brown. Most of the soils of the alluvium are
hydromorphic soils. Alluvial soils consist of over 80% silt and clay.
Structure is well-developed. Lower grassland soils tend to be granular or
subangular blocky in the surface horizons, becoming prismatic with depth.
Structure of the high-lying soils tends to be subangular blocky throughout. pH
varies seasonally in many alluvial soils. Most of the alluvium is of moderate
or low base status. CEC of alluvial soils is 10-20 meq/lOOg of soil
indicating they are much more fertile than upland soils.
Present occupation ot land has been established by historical factors.
The original members of a patrilineage moved to unoccupied land and had
exclusive rights to the land. Each village has an identifiable area of land
that falls under the village Alkalo. Any compound has the right to clear
unclaimed land outside village jurisdiction and claim this land for the
village. Land is transferred from generation to generation along male lines.
Women obtain rice land primarily from their husbands but also from their
Five main ethnic groups in the Gambia account for 95% of the
population(Alers-Montalvo et al., 1983):
Ethnic Group Z
Marketing outlets are local markets, village traders, Gambian Produce and
Marketing Board, and "other" sources.
Credit is available primarily from cooperatives, but also from Rural
Development Projects and banks.
Certain crops are farmed in the Gambia according to sex. Groundnuts are
traditionally a male crop although women are beginning to grow more
groundnuts. Millet and sorghum are also men's crops but women help with
harvesting. Alluvial rice is a women's crop. Maize is grown by both sexes.
Vegetables are grown by women. Strange farmers are seasonal migrants from
otner parts or the Gambia or other countries. In return for working in the
compound head's fields two or three days per week, they are given land to farm
or casn crop on. Strange farmers return to their own village at the end of
the cropping season.
Much of the farming is done by manual labor. Land preparation is usually
done by animal traction although clearing by hand is still quite common.
Farm equipment and draft animals are desirable purchases if cash is
available. Pesticides, improved seed, and fertilizer are other inputs farmers
desire to purchase if money is available to do so.
Cowpeas and maize were intercropped on one hectare. Women's societies
provided their own maize and MFP provided them with local cowpea cultivars.
Planting began in early July after the rains began. Harvesting of maize was
in October. Cowpea harvests varied with the cultivar. For maize and cowpeas,
five rows were selected at random and 10m of each row was harvested.
The objective was to introduce intercropping to the women's societies as
a beneficial agronomic practice in soils of low fertility where little
fertilizer is available. At the same time a crop high in protein would be
introduced to the Gambian diet and a desirable cash crop would be planted.
Crop residues would be more nutritious for animals with the inclusion of
cowpea leaves and stems. Planting cowpeas was additional work for the women
but most were interested because cowpeas is such a desirable crop.
Lite expectancy of Gambians is 32 years for males and 34 years for
females(Dunsmore et al, 1976). Out of every 1000 births, 285 children die
before reaching two years of age. Lack of food and malnutrition cause many of
these deaths. The MFP Women's Program attempted to address this problem by
introducing more nutritious crops and teaching the preparation of these crops.
Background for Maize Program and Mixed Farming Project
In 1979 the Department of Agriculture in the Gambia introduced a cereal
package deal to encourage an increase in the production of millet, maize,
sorghum and upland rice. This cereal package demonstrated the advantage of
using good seed, fertilizer, timely operations, insecticides and improved
farming implements (Kidman,1984). Maize was introduced through this program
as a crop with export potential.
The Mixed Farming Project (MFP) began in the Gambia in 1981. The
objective of this project was "to improve the well-being of the rural people
through intensified integration of crop and livestock production within
existing Gambian farming systems." One component of this project was the
maize production program. Maize was selected for emphasis because it is an
easy crop to grow and a good cash crop, particularly since the government
offered a guaranteed price. Another advantage of maize is that it is an early
food crop, requiring only 60-70 days to mature. Maize can be safely stored in
the dry season. NCB, a Nigerian maize cultivar, was chosen for the MFP
trials. The choice was based on results of maize cultivar trials conducted
The MFP maize program emphasized improved farm management practices to
increase yields. Seminars were conducted for training extension personnel.
the selecLion or farmers to participate in the program was based on their
established credit. Some women were also selected to participate in the MFP
maize program. This involvement eventually led to the development of the
women's component of MFP.
In numerous Gambian villages the women have organized women's societies.
The extension service of the Department of Agriculture encourages the
formation of these societies because they provide a means of bringing women
together to be taught improved agricultural methods. The women's societies
use cropping projects as a means of obtaining funds for social and charitable
purposes. Income is generated from the sale of crops harvested from the
society field. Each society has a savings account. Money is saved to
purchase inputs for the next growing season and to contract the field
preparation. Seea is reserved from the harvest to plant in the following
Women's societies can be hired to work on another field to receive
additional income for the society. MFP hired women's societies to transplant
grasses upcountry and to weed fields at the experimental station at Yundum.
Women's societies may also be called on for nonprofit community service. For
example, if the village is building a school, the society members may be asked
to help with construction or cook for those doing the work.
Women's society members typically range in age from 15-40. These
societies are an ideal network for channeling education to village women.
Women's Societies and MFP
The MFY 1982 introductory maize program involved a few women's societies.
In 1983, 42 women's societies grew maize. During the 1984 season, 78 women's
societies grew maize. Extension workers and MFP staff instructed the women
with regard to maize cultural practices such as time of planting and harvest,
rate and spacing of planting, and fertilizer application.
Hand Shellers and Hand Mills
Prior to cooking maize it must be shelled, cleaned, dehulled, and then
pounded into a meal or flour(Marlett and Sambou, 1985). This preparation is
tedious and time consuming and can deter women from preparing maize. MFP
distributed 50 hand sellers and 40 hand mills throughout the country to
facilitate maize processing. Use of these tools was demonstrated by extension
workers and MFP personnel. Although superior to hand pounding, there were
problems with the mills. After dehulling, maize had to be dried before
grinding which lengthened the processing time. Another drawback was that
maize had to be ground two or three times to obtain the desired texture.
Nevertheless, using this tool was considered superior to hand pounding of
In conjunction with the Extension Aids Training Unit of the Department of
Agriculture, the Women's Program of MFP initiated maize cooking demonstrations
in December, 1984. The objective of these demonstrations was to introduce
Gambian women to methods of food preparation using maize as the staple
Forty female agriculture demonstrators from throughout the country were
taught to conduct cooking demonstrations. The training sessions were two days
long; the first day covered economic and nutritional benefits of maize and the
second day was the actual cooking demonstration.
Fifty-four villages were selected for cooking demonstrations. Villages
that had grown maize in 1984 were given priority in this selection. Villages
were required to provide firewood, cooking utensils, and maize. MFP provided
D17,000($4,857.00) for cooking ingredients, night allowances, and training of
Eleven recipes were prepared, including a maize weaning food consisting
of fine maize meal, groundnut butter, milk, sugar, pumpkin, and bananas.
Representatives from surrounding villages were invited; approximately 100
women were instructed at each demonstration. The cooking demonstrations were
well received by the villages and evolved into festive celebrations.
Demonstrators were requested to conduct follow-up cooking demonstrations
at the compound level. Cassette tapes with cooking instructions in Mandinka,
Wolof, and Fula were distributed to women's societies to assist with these
1985 Maize-Cowpea Intercropping Program
The MFP Women's Program designed a project to introduce maize-cowpea
intercropping to the women's societies during the 1985 growing season, the
objectives of the intercropping project were to improve the human diet,
improve stover quality for livestock, increase the rural family income, and
introduce a valuable agronomic practice.
Advantages of Intercropping
Cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata) is a summer crop which grows best with 750-
1000 mm of rainfall. It is a drought tolerant crop and has been reported to
do well in the Sudan with only 400 mm of rainfall (Skerman, 1977). Cowpeas
are quick growing and compete well with low growing weeds.
Cowpeas are a valuable cash crop and would provide a source of income for
the women farmers as well as improve the nutritional balance of local food
production. They are high in protein therefore valuable for human nutrition
and animal forage. Intercropping maize with cowpeas provides one crop high in
carbohydrates complemented by one high in protein. In Tanzania, Jeffers and
Triplett (1979) considered the nutritional benefits of intercropping cereals
and legumes to be one of the most important measures of the success of
intercropping. Although yield is an important measure for evaluating the
success of a crop, it does not reflect nutritional value or land use which are
important benefits of an intercropping system (Francis, 1978).
In Eastern Gambia, Weil (1980) describes the soil as low in clay, sandy,
free draining, and low in fertility. Decline in soil nitrogen content
naturally accompanies agricultural development (Greenland, 1980). In the
Gambia, groundnuts are rotated with millet but maize is monocropped on the
same field each year. Average fertilizer application is two bags per hectare
(Eckert and Fulcher, 1983). Intercropping legumes and grains may be a viable
alternative to nitrogen application in agricultural systems such as the Gambia
where nitrogen is unavailable or unaffordable. Legumes are commonly included
in an intercropping situation since potentially they may fix some of their
nitrogen and consequently conserve soil nitrogen for the benefit of other
crops (Nambian et al, 1983). To enhance nitrogen fixation, inoculation with a
specific strain of cowpea Rhizobia is beneficial, however cowpeas are
nonspecific and will nodulate freely with native Rhizobia so inoculation is
not essential (Skerman, 1977).
The technical package for the women's societies intercropping program
(Marlett and Sambou, 1985) was designed considering results of intercropping
studies conducted by the MFP maize agronomist on the experimental station in
1984. The technical package was distributed to extension workers in each
division who were responsible for explaining the package to the societies and
assisting the women in its implementation. Society selection for
participation was based on the society's financial status and village
location. Twenty-eight of the seventy-eight societies that had grown maize in
1984 were able to pay back their loan to the FAO fertilizer revolving fund
credit scheme. These societies were selected to participate in the
intercropping program. All five agricultural divisions in the Gambia were
Fields were cleared by hand or animal traction. The society paid for the
clearing from its savings. Once the heavy rains began, 15-15-15 compound
fertilizer was broadcast over the field at a rate of 200 kg/ha with 90 cm
between rows and 25 cm between plants. Two weeks after planting maize, fields
were weeded and cowpeas were planted between the maize rows. Several local
varieties of cowpeas were distributed to the women's societies.
In some villages the agricultural extension personnel were more effective
than in others and spent more time assisting the Women's Societies. The
extension workers changed the intercropping design in some villages. In
others, the technical package was abandoned completely and cowpeas and maize
were grown separately. Too many societies were involved for MFP to assume
complete responsibility for monitoring of the society fields. Consequently,
it was essential that MFP personnel instruct agricultural extension personnel
thoroughly with regard to the technical package.
The women's society fields are frequently the last fields assigned by the
village Alkalo and are often in poor condition. Women plant society fields
after tneir own planting is concluded, so typically planting is late. Time
available for field maintenance is very limited. Women usually work in their
society field on Wednesday, their day of rest. Almost all of the labor is
hand labor. Women work together as a group, singing while they work.
In the 1985 growing season, abundant rainfall resulted in high weed
infestations in many of the fields. Presence of cowpeas in between maize rows
suppressed weed growth in some fields, however in others the weeds were not
deterred by the cowpeas. The women were aware of the need to weed their
fields more frequently but simply had no time for the additional task.
One disadvantage of growing cowpeas is that they are plagued with insect
pests. Agricultural demonstrators and society members were advised to monitor
fields for insect pests and contact Crop Protection Service (CPS) when pests
were observed. CPS was provided with a list of participating villages and was
to provide chemicals for spraying as needed. Fuel shortages often made
pesticide distribution difficult. Thrips (Megalurothrips siostedti) is a
major insect pest in cowpeas during the flowering stage. They infest cowpea
blossoms, causing them to abort. If untreated, the cowpea plants continue
developing vegetatively but lose all their blossoms before pod development can
occur. Thrips are very small and can go unnoticed to the untrained eye.
Society fields were visited by MFP personnel(Norem, Sambou)throughout the
growing season. Progress was monitored and problems discussed during these
visits. The importance of monitoring for thrips was emphasized during these
Each society was required to provide its own maize seed and to pay MFP
D100 ($28.57) to participate in the program. This is a significant sum of
money and its payment should have indicated society interest in the program.
Of the 28 women's societies participating, nine did not harvest either maize
or cowpeas from their fields. It is important to examine whether these
failures were due to lack of interest, time constraints, or pest damage.
Several societies planted maize and then had no time to maintain the
fields. Fields became densely overgrown with weeds and cowpeas were never
planted. One society explained that the severe rice shortage had forced the
women to spend much of their time searching for rice and consequently they did
not have time for the society field. A common problem for several villages
was ttat they were assigned fields 2 km or further from their village. As
they became busier in their own fields they did not have time to travel the
distance to maintain the society fields. When fields were so distant, it was
difficult to have a society member or child guard the field and watch for
insects or monkeys. One society reported that its distant field was destroyed
Fifteen of the societies did harvest maize. Yields varied from very high
to quite low. The women had experience with maize from previous growing
seasons and were aware of the investments needed for a good crop.
Results of cowpeas were unsuccessful with only two villages reporting
harvests. As previously mentioned, in several fields cowpeas were not even
planted due to dense weeds. Weeds were a major problem in fields in which
cowpeas were planted as well. In many fields the thrips infestations went
unobserved or had developed too far before CPS was contacted. Sometimes CPS
could not respond to calls due to fuel shortages.
Another problem was that the cowpea seed that was distributed was local
cultivars from throughout the Gambia and the Cassamance region of Senegal. The
seed had been purchased at the local markets and growth characteristics,
including day length requirements were not known. Possibly several of these
cultivars were not planted at the right time of year to produce pods.
Using cultivars of known characteristics would have enhanced the chances
of obtaining a cowpea harvest. However, the use of a known cultivar is no
guarantee due to the severe insect problems which accompany cowpea
cultivation. On the experimental station at Yundum, many known cultivars
produced only vegetative growth due to thrips infestations.
This method of intercropping was new to the Gambian women, however,
growing cowpeas was not new. Cowpeas are a desirable food crop and are
frequently grown in backyard gardens. Undoubtedly local cultivars are used
and pesticides are not available. In a backyard garden the cowpeas are close
to the compound and easier to monitor for insects. Pests are also easier to
control since fewer plants are grown.
While visiting some women's societies, they were asked about local
customs for controlling insect pests. Practices for controlling the cowpea
weevil Callosobruchus maculatus, a severe problem in harvested seed, included
steaming seeds or storing them in oil, ash, or chillies to repel the weevils.
A survey conducted by CPS(Sagnia, 1984)revealed several local methods
which may be effective in controlling insect pests on cowpeas as well as other
crops. Broadcasting wood ashes on plants, particularly vegetables, to protect
them from insects is widely practiced in the Gambia. Insects can be attracted
to a stie away from the field using bran, fresh cow dung, or green baobab
fruit. They are then killed by burning or burying. Burning blister beetles
is reported to produce an odor which discourages other blister beetles from
the area. Another practice of dubious value is cutting the ovipositors off of
ten female blister beetles and using these insects to frighten away others.
Neem tree berries(Azadirachta indica)are dried, pounded, and used as seed
dressing or to ward off field pests.
These local methods of pest control are important to identify and
evaluate. Instructing village women to use particular customs such as these
may be more valuable than teaching them to rely on pesticides which are
frequently unavailable and often too late in arriving to be effective.
In retrospect, it is apparent that local Gambian customs for cowpea
production should have been better understood prior to implementing this
program. The technical package should have included more information on
insect pests and extension agents should have received training regarding
these pests. Ideally, a pesticide spraying program should have been set up in
advance rather than relying on contacting CPS once pests were observed.
Finally, a known cowpea cultivar with proper day length requirements should
have been distributed. Unfortunately, this is the final season for MFP so an
important follow-up program is not possible. Hopefully these suggestions will
be useful to other projects carrying on future intercropping work in the
Despite the failure of the cowpea crop the work with the women's
societies should be regarded positively. The village women were recognized as
farmers and singled out for instruction. The women seemed eager to learn and
always receptive to MFP personnel. The women's societies in the Gambia are an
ideal network that is already established and could easily be used by
developmental projects for the WID efforts. In 1986 the DOA of the Gambia
established a permanent Women's Program. Marie Sambou, a MFP staff member and
my counterpart was assigned to this group.
Alers-Montalvo,M., F.O. Dumbuya, G.D. Fulcher, B. Gai and J. Haydu. 1983
Farming Activities in the Gambia, A Preliminary Report. CID/GAM.
Dunsmore, J.R., A.B. Rains, G.D.N.Lowe, D.J.Moffatt, T.P.Anderson, and J.B.
Williams. 1976. Land Resources Division #22,The Agricultural Development of
the Gambia: An Agricultural, Environmental and Socioeconomic Analysis.
Eckert,J.B., and G.D.Fulcher. 1984. Annual Administrative Report No.4 for
the Gambian Mixed Farming and Resources Management Project. CID/GAM-O1.
Francis, C.A. 1978. Multiple cropping potential of beans and maize.
Hortscience 13: 12-17.
Greenland,D.J. 1980. The nitrogen cycle in West Africa-agronomic
considerations. In T. Rosswall(ed.)Nitrogen Cycling in West African
Jeffers, D.L. and G.B. Triplett,Jr. 1979. Management needed for relay
intercropping beans and wheat. Ohio Report, Ohio Agricultural Research and
Development Center, 64(5): 67-70.
Kidman,D. and S. Owens. 1985. The commercialization of maize in the Gambia.
Marlett, M. and M. Sambou. 1985. Food production/consumption linkage.
Nambian, P.T.C., H.R. Rao, M.S. Reddy, C.N.Floyd, P.J. Dart, and R.W. Willey.
1983. Effect of intercropping on nodulation and N2 fixation by groundnuts.
Expl.Agric. 19: 79-86.
Sagnia, S.B. 1981. Pest control methods used by Gambian farmers. Crop
Protection Service, Ministry of Agriculture, The Gambia.
Skerman, P.J. 1977. Tropical Forage Legumes. Food and Agricultural
Organization of the United States(FAO). Rome, Italy.
Well, P.M. 1980. Land use, labor and intensification among the Mandinka of
Eastern Gambia. Paper presented at the 23rd meeting of the African Studies
Association Oct. 1980. Philadelphia, Pa.