The ripple effect: How small investments have yielded bigger sustainable rewards in The Gambia

As a small country, The Gambia has to think innovatively to maximize its trade potential outside of its domestic market. The EIF programme's role has been key in putting trade into action, using a coordinated framework to work with rural communities and boost their livelihoods by addressing their needs through robust projects that can attract further investment. Government Ministries and stakeholders nationwide are now in the driving seat of the trade agenda showing how conducive trade policies and building up institutions' capacity to act on trade can drastically change the realities on the ground.

The Gambia relies on a strong national common trade platform with broad support from local partner institutions and communities, helping to make national development efforts sustainable and build a growing momentum around the trade agenda. Leading the process and with earlier support from the EIF Programme since 2006, The Gambia has put in place well-defined structures and strategies for trade and Aid for Trade (AfT). The Gambia's National Trade Policy; the National Export Strategy; the Diagnostic Trade Integration Study (DTIS) and its Update led by UNCTAD; the Medium‑term Programme (MTP); and The Gambia's Programme for Accelerated Growth and Employment (extended to 2016) have served as a strong national platform with clear priorities and concerted courses of actions on trade development, employment and poverty reduction.  

Through the EIF institutional capacity‑building project, more than 24 sub-grants have benefitted a range of stakeholders to build and support institutional capacities of professional associations and line ministries to implement the priorities identified in The Gambia's DTIS and its Update. The EIF project has assisted main sub-grant partners, including Government Agencies and Departments: the Fisheries Department; The Gambia Ports Authority; the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI); the National Codex Sanitary and Phytosanitary Committee; The Gambia Competition Commission; The Gambia Investment and Export Promotion Authority (GIEPA); and The Gambia Standard Bureau. Private sector main sub-grant partners include: the Association of Gambian Horticultural Producers and Exporters; the National Cashew Farmers Association; the National Women Farmers Association; the Association of Small Scale Enterprises in Tourism; The Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI); the Cashew Alliance of The Gambia; The Gambia Is Good; and Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) food processors.

Increased backing has been given to SMEs through funding to several businesses and to GIEPA, which is supporting SMEs and micro-businesses and hosts the Cashew Sector Working Group in charge of implementing the EIF‑financed Cashew Sector Development and Export Strategy (2014‑2019). Additional support has also been used for institutional strengthening and capacity building of the Public‑Private Partnership (PPP) as a major strategy to finance public infrastructure through supporting the policy dialogue on PPP development in collaboration with the Directorate of PPP at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs (MoFEA) together with the GCCI. Similar support has been given to the innovative 'Business to Business' networking initiative spearheaded among others by GIEPA. EIF support to the private sector has also included training on food safety and quality issues to the Association of Gambian Manufacturers as well as to GIEPA to support value addition in the cashew sector through the transfer of processing technologies to farmers and processor groups of West Coast and North Bank regions.

The project's catalytic grants combine a fresh approach that has helped to build the partners' confidence in the EIF as a programme that supports growth, while laying strong foundations for other supply-side capacity development projects to follow, such as on cashew, groundnuts and sesame. Likewise, The Gambia's appreciation of capacity development has enabled them to take on a holistic chain of interventions that have significantly helped to expand and grow the cashew, groundnuts and sesame value chain.

Complemented by an additional EIF sector‑specific project on cashew, groundnuts and sesame, and in line with the Government's initiative to address food security and promote sustainable agro‑production, the nuts project aims to increase sales by 3% in value based on new export opportunities and product diversification, improving value addition, enhancing quality and strengthening sector support institutions. With implementation support from ITC, specific sector development strategies are now in place, and the increasing home-grown produce has been catalytic in supporting the growing tourism sector in The Gambia, with locally grown produce being increasingly sold to hotels and restaurants.

Farmer Field Schools have also been established to provide training and knowledge to Agribusiness Services and the Producer Association on groundnuts; the National Women Farmers' Association on sesame; and the Cashew Alliance for The Gambia on cashew. In 2015, 550 farmers learned how to grow groundnuts, cashew and sesame of better quality through the Farmer Field School. Over 1,300 farmers have received training since the beginning of the project in 2012.

The EIF‑funded projects have supported the development of national standards by The Gambia Standard Bureau and the operationalization of the Food Safety and Quality Authority of The Gambia (FSQA) to improve compliance and increase access to both regional and international markets. The NARI Aflatoxin lab has also been supported in its accreditation to ISO/IEC 17025 and equipped to monitor disease control and to support seed production. In partnership with ITC and the FSQA, studies on aflatoxins in the food chain and research on managing food safety risks have been conducted, as well as trainings on good agricultural practices; proper storage for better aflatoxin control; and good hygienic and manufacturing practices in the cashew, groundnuts and sesame value chain.

Three cashew processors have now adopted new packaging technologies (packaging machines, new consumer packages with zip-lock bags and informative labels with bar codes), with the capacity to bag and label 200 packages in two hours. As a result, the companies can now sell to local supermarkets and hotels. Moreover, seven companies have successfully completed the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point implementation process. Through a partnership with ITC and RONGEAD (Réseau non-gouvernemental européen sur l'agroalimentaire, le commerce, l'environnement et le développement), The Gambia now has a Weekly Cashew Market Bulletin.

A Trade Information Reference Centre has been established to support the private sector including agricultural producers, processors and exporters, sector representatives and policy makers to access and understand trade information. Now policy makers, producers, processors and exporters of cashew, groundnuts and sesame are part of a growing trade information service, which includes a trade information portal (www.gambiatradeinfo.gov.gm). A Packaging Resource Centre was also set up at GCCI to build networks among packaging suppliers, processors and experts.

Efforts through the EIF framework are now under way to support the Government to leverage additional resources from development partners to implement the MTP and to develop strategic sectors, such as fishery, horticulture and tourism. Sector strategies on cashew and sesame have been developed with project profiles, and through consultations with the MoFEA under the European Development Fund Eleven (EDF 11), there is a possibility to include the sector strategies in the next programme. Moreover, some key trade‑related activities have been included in the validated EDF 11, which addresses quality and marketing‑related challenges in the fisheries, groundnuts, cashew and sesame sectors. These efforts have been supported by Turkey, The Gambia's EIF Donor Facilitator, whose special role in the implementation of the Istanbul Programme of Action for Least Developed Countries, opens up the perspective of wider engagement from non‑traditional partners worldwide.

Across the board, with EIF support, The Gambia has reached out to a variety of stakeholders from civil society to the public and private sectors, building trade capacity and boosting productivity across priority sectors. With limited bilateral donor presence in-country, tapping into development partner support means mobilizing resources to respond to critical development needs through innovative outreach, including utilizing opportunities to hold trade round-table discussions. The series of EIF‑funded interventions to grow the nuts sector have also had a ripple effect wave on many other sectors and institutions, including tourism and fisheries, enabling The Gambia to spread its results and broaden the impact to reach and help more poor rural beneficiaries.