Gambia says 70 pct of food harvest failed, seeks aid


BANJUL – Gambia has appealed for food aid after it said that 70 percent of its crops failed during the last growing season, extending the reach of a food crisis already hitting millions of people across Africa’s Sahel strip.

Gambia’s agriculture ministry said the impact of poor rains last year had been exacerbated by high world food prices, crippling household incomes in the West African state, which has ridden out previous food crises.

Aid agencies have warned that some nine million people across Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad are facing another food crisis this year on the back of poor harvests, high prices, the fall in remittances and conflict.

“The post-harvest assessment of the 2011 farming season, which was characterized by below normal and poorly distributed rainfall, indicated a reduction in total crop production of more than 70 percent,” Gambia’s agriculture ministry said in a statement issued late on Tuesday.

The poor harvests of rice, groundnuts, millets, maize and sorghum had left villages with just two months of food supplies, down from the usual four to six, at the end of the 2011 harvest, it added.

The statement said the government could not match the needs to tackle the current food crisis and prepare farmers for the 2012 growing season and appealed for $23 million in seeds, fertilisers and food aid.

Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh, who seized power in a 1994 coup, has had a troubled relationship with donors, largely due to his country’s human rights record.

The statement did not give a figure for the number of people needing food aid but officials in the agriculture ministry said just over 1 million people were in need.

Some 60 percent of the country of 1.7 million people, living in a nation completely surrounded by Senegal, are farmers.

Crops are usually planted in July and harvested in October.