GCF funding boosts ecosystem-based adaptation in The Gambia

Guest blog by
22 June 2017

Finance from the Green Climate Fund is helping The Gambia build resilient communities and sustainable livelihoods – and adapt to climate change.

Fisheries account for 12 per cent of The Gambia's GDP. The country's Atlantic coastline and the mangroves along the River Gambia estuary are vulnerable to climate change (Photo: Javier D. Creative Commons via Flickr)

The Gambia is one of the countries in the world most vulnerable to climate change. 

The combined effects of sea level rise, erosion of coastal embankments and increased sedimentation of rivers pose increasing risk of flooding that threatens both the natural resource base and the lives and livelihoods of Gambian communities.

Poverty and reliance on climate-sensitive natural resources such as forest, rivers and sea makes it essential for The Gambia to adapt to changing weather events. Since 2013, the government has been taking an ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) approach, promoting small-scale projects that maintain or enhance the ecosystem in order to protect natural resources and livelihoods.

Promoting better livelihood opportunities

EbA approaches have been used in key sectors such as fisheries, agriculture, tourism and forestry.

Fisheries contribute around 12 per cent to The Gambia's GDP, employ more than 36,000 people and provide a major source of animal protein for consumption. Atlantic fish resources, however, are already declining because of irresponsible fishing practices – and may be further impacted by climate change. 

In the short term, climate change could actually increase fish stocks. Models suggest that productivity could increase by as much as 10-12 per cent until 2100 – as some species, such as shrimp, can adapt to the warmer water. But loss of mangroves and salt marsh vegetation could offset these positive impacts, while changes in water quality and the saline balance of the Gambia River estuary would also have negative impacts on fish stocks. 

Inspecting mangrove seedlings: The Gambia's mangroves and other wetland ecosystems are important croplands and critical breeding habitats for commercially valuable fisheries species (Photo: Isatou F. Camara)

With a view to managing future impacts, the government has already restored 625 hectares of mangrove forest to protect arable land by preventing the influx of saline water and create breeding grounds to help boost fish stocks.

They have also supplied five community gardens with solar-powered boreholes to support crop cultivation where hand-dug wells have dried up, due to reduced ground water recharge, to ensure they can continue to produce essential crops.

Climate Resilient Sustainable Agricultural (CRSA) practices have also been promoted. A total of 2,329 smallholder farmers were initially supported with agricultural extension services to help them improve their yields. Now more farmers are embracing CRSA practices because they can see that they work. Seed and cereal banks serving nearly 100 farmers have also been restocked, enabling small-holders to avoid buying from exploitative middle-men. 

All these small-scale EbA interventions have boosted farmer incomes and enhanced community resilience. 

Accessing international climate finance

The success of these initiatives has led to new opportunities to access international climate finance. The Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Natural Resource recently secured a US$21 million grant from the Green Climate Fund (GCF) for a large-scale EbA project that will operate in the Lower River, Central River and Upper River regions. 

Securing GCF funding is a significant achievement for The Gambia, which has clearly won GCF confidence to be able to manage the funds and implement EbA at scale. It's also a very positive move for the GCF, which is yet to disburse significant funding to developing countries, despite recognising the importance of getting climate funding to national and local levels in poor countries.

Ahead of the 11th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation, IIED is profiling national approaches to climate-resilient development. This is the third of three blogs from members of the Government Group Network on Climate Change Mainstreaming. The first focused on insuring against climate risk in Kenya, and the second on how Bangladesh's Delta Plan is making ecosystems resilient.

The project will promote EbA in agricultural areas, community-managed forest reserves and wildlife conservation areas – building the climate-resilience of rural Gambian communities and promoting a sustainable natural resource-based economy. In particular it will:

  • Restore degraded forests and agricultural landscapes with climate-resilient plant species that provide goods for consumption or sale, and
  • Support the development of commercially-viable natural resource-based businesses, to be managed by community-based organisations. 

But there are still many challenges ahead. Coordination between different government departments not used to working together will no doubt have its difficulties. It may also be hard to find the high-level technical skills needed. And promoting successful natural resource-based businesses will require new skills and an ambitious new entrepreneurial approach. 

But hopefully a combination of government leadership, participation from the private sector, civil society and communities, and international expertise can rise to these challenges in the years ahead – to ensure that EbA realises its full potential to protect communities and ecosystems in The Gambia from climate change.

Isatou F. Camara is principal development planner in the Gambian Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs.

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