Being the smallest country in continental Africa with borders running around a river of the same name, the Gambia’s population relies heavily on subsistence farming and agricultural businesses. This situation creates a very undiversified job market that presents fewer opportunities to job seekers, especially women and youth.
This is why UNCDF teamed up with the International Trade Centre (ITC) and the Gambian government to develop ways to expand and diversify opportunities for people seeking jobs that require a much-needed skillset, providing them with better and more stable sources of income. This, in turn, will also reduce unemployment and irregular migration. As Senegal completely surrounds The Gambia, many job seekers opt to leave the country for better job opportunities.
The European Union (EU) saw that this initiative was necessary to curb youth unemployment and encourage women to live productive lives with sustainable income. ITC has an array of interesting capacity-building programmes. At the same time, UNCDF manages assessments in rural and urban areas to find out what the employment needs are for specific groups and villages. This is how the partnership came about, the first of its kind in the country, named the Jobs, Skills and Finance (JSF) Programme.
The capacity-building programmes focus mainly on providing technical skills, but they also have an entrepreneurial growth aspect. Yusupha Keita, Technical Advisor and Coordinator for Skills Development, explained that the programme goes into communities to identify the capacities that need development. He said: “When it comes to capacity building, we look for programmes that are relevant, accessible, and are of good quality.”
The programme has grown through the years, delivering trainings on solar power, horticulture, food processing, stove production, general construction and electrical installation, among other subjects. Keita said: “We have 23 different programmes that we have delivered in the duration of the programme in most regions of The Gambia. We want people to access and retain the relevant skills to get proper jobs.”
Keita approximates that the progamme now has 3700 graduates. Forty-five percent of them are women, and 40 percent are youth. He gives an example of the Poultry Programme, which has trained 45 people, all of whom found employment after completing the courses. He also said that the Apprenticeship Programme had delivered similar results, with all trainees getting employed after taking the courses.
In order to ensure the quality and reliability of the capacity-building courses, the JSF programme works and consults with National Accreditation And Quality Assurance Authority (NAQAA) to get accreditation and certification. NAQAA is a regulatory body that aims to deliver quality accreditation services with integrity and accountability for the provision of a workforce that is competent, certified, innovative, entrepreneurial, and contributive to the continual development of The Gambia.
Dr. Gilbert Jaw, a Representative of NAQAA, oversees this procedure. He said: “We look at the nature of the programme and its learning outcomes, and then we give them clearance in accordance with our procedures.”
“Upon completing their modules, we give them a National Certificate, which is highly valued in the job market in The Gambia. Graduates can use them for the entirety of their professional lives. However, the labor market changes and technology shifts in today’s job market. Maintaining the trainings is also essential,” explained Dr. Jaw.
“The JSF Programme has been a very relevant initiative, and it has impacted the lives of many Gambians. It has done a lot for youth development, but we need to go further by upgrading the skills and taking it to another level,” said Dr. Jaw, pointing out that the number of graduates should increase.
Lamin Jammeh, 34, is a micro-gardener and training provider. On his farm he holds classes and tours for trainees and school children. Jammeh trained 86 people last year to germinate, cultivate and harvest many types of vegetables, including radishes, cucumbers, green beans and cabbage. He has been providing trainings for three years now.
Of the 86 people he has trained, 56 now have micro gardens. He teaches them how to grow organic crops with little waste using unconventional techniques in rural Gambia, like hydroponic planting and growing lettuce on discarded groundnut shells, which are widely available in the Gambia and are exceptionally nutritious for cabbage and lettuce. He claims these two crops grow faster and healthier on groundnut shells than in soil. When grown this way, the seedlings are portable and can be sold individually planted for people who want to start their own micro gardens.
He further supports the graduates of his training programme by setting up a WhatsApp group for all of them in case they need advice or run into an issue – this also facilitates the exchange of market knowledge and gardening know-how between the graduates.
Recently one of his graduates ran into a pest issue where all her crops deteriorated because of an influx of spider mites invading her micro-garden. Instead of opting for a chemical solution, Jammeh advised her to use a neem solution, a tree that grows abundantly where she is from, treating her crops rapidly and organically.
“Micro gardening is a year-round venture, and we can grow during the rainy season. We collect the rain to water the plants. However, mint does not like rainwater, and this is what I have advised the trainees,” said Jammeh, who now runs a farm in a rural area outside of Banjul aptly named MyFarm, hosting visitors from all walks of life – including students, kindergartners and tourists.
Lamin has also given training courses to people in the local prison, Mile 2. He notes that this was his most gratifying time as a trainer. “Most of my prison graduates are eager to leave and start their micro gardens; some start their micro gardens right when they are released, giving them a steady and reliable source of income that has kept them out of trouble.
His trainings are not specific to Gambians only. He also extended his expertise to prisoners from Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. He explained: “Some of the people who were discharged created their own micro gardens. They come to see me and my farm before heading to their home countries to grow their own micro gardens.”
“Many of my trainees visit my farm to buy seeds, seedlings and beeswax for soap production, which is another course I offer,” said Lamin.
Some graduates have expressed interest in becoming trainers, and others relay the skills they learned to their family members or others in their communities.
Lamin further explained: “The trainings have positively impacted lives. Prior to the training, [the graduates] didn’t have the skills at all. After the trainings they get inspired and then make it their own. They start their business journeys with me, and then I offer advice for a long period until they are seasoned. I never turn away anyone that needs advice or support. I have trained people who have become trainers.”
This is common in other training programmes also. Mr. Keita has explained that this is the case for their tailoring programme, which is comprised of 90 percent women. This training course is 18 months long and can be extended to 24 months. In The Gambia, most tailors need to gain the expertise to do embroidery; however, this programme has realized that niche in the market and has incorporated that craft into the courses.
Keita said: “Employment rates are different. While many seek regular employment in companies, many have also started up their own businesses.”
Dr. Jaw indicates that the JSF Programme has been a lifeline for many Gambians, including women and youth. He asserted: “It has been a very relevant programme, and it has impacted the life of Gambians, and it has done a lot for youth development, moving them away from odd jobs to full employment. They went from unskilled to semi-skilled and then to fully skilled, with work experience.”
The JSF programme served as a vehicle to implement the second phase of the National Indicative Programme in The Gambia, which is part of the 11th European Development Fund (EDF).
Niania Dabo-Tourey, the Manager of the JSF Programme in The Gambia, explained: "The JSF Programme has improved opportunities in education and skills development for women, youth and support to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs)– as, with investment, these segments of society hold huge potential for the future productivity and success of The Gambia."
The Programme sought to reduce poverty through improved inclusive and sustainable growth and employment and aimed to contribute to stabilizing the economic, social and security situation of the country during the democratic transition by facilitating social inclusion and employment of the youth and women, with a specific emphasis on promoting gender equality and addressing climate change.
Through the JSF Programme, UNCDF aimed to promote access to finance, reinforce decentralization processes, and strengthen national capacities to support local economic development while improving climate change resilience of local communities and supporting them in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).