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The Gambia
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Young men receive support in The Gambia

Unemployment is high in The Gambia and many young men decide to leave the country illegally to search for work in Europe. But the voyage can be extremely dangerous and in the past more than 200 young Gambians have died trying to cross the seas.

A government-run association called ‘Operation No Back Way to Europe’ aims to keep young people safe by offering them incentives to stay at home. Funded by the European Commission and working alongside the immigration department, the association helps set up young men in farming and gives them the tools they need to succeed.

Young farmers in ten of the country’s poorest areas (in the Lower, Central and Upper River regions) have been provided with fertiliser and equipment such as tillers, tractors, seeders and rice threshers. This investment has allowed the young men to earn a good living in The Gambia, where around 70% of the population relies on agriculture. Speaking to the Inter Press Service (part of the Guardian development network), one 20 year-old farmer in the Central River region said his rice harvests had been so successful, he was managing to earn around 390 dollars a month, half the salary a government minister would expect to take home.

He is one of 50 young farmers who have been loaned land to farm by the government and grow the Nerica variety of rice, which performs well in dry land. Another young farmer recounted how he had tried on several occasions to reach Spain in a small boat, but each time had been deported back to The Gambia. Since joining the association however, he too has earned a good living with farming and declared “that is enough for me, rather than voyaging across the sea to lose my life.” According to the Gambian immigration department, only 60 people attempted the journey to Europe in 2010-2011.

The Gambia is one of the countries across the Sahel region facing massive food shortages this year. Previously, this small African nation has ridden out food crises, but a combination of poor rains and high food prices have hit the country badly. The government has estimated that 1 million people are in need of food assistance. The United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund has provided 4.8 million dollars to help in the crisis. But the Gambian government also realises it must build up better resilience and improve food security. This is one reason why investments in the farming sector and in young farmers such as those taking part in ‘Operation No Back Way to Europe’ is so vital for the nation’s future.

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