A book club on the verge of turning itself into a life transforming body of volunteers led by Cindy Gregg has made a follow-up fact finding mission at Mandinaring women’s garden. Kissy-Kissy Mansa was right there as the women struggle to point-out among a myriad of competing hitches, which one stands top.
When Cindy Gregg, the deputy chief of mission of United States embassy in Banjul told a group of women gardeners in Mandinaring village that a fund will be raised to help them fence their garden, there was a round of applause. Pledge of a fence that is durable and indestructible by marauding cattle that visit their garden uninvited and eat-up their crops came as news of glad tiding to the women. “Alhamdou lillah,” (an Arabic term meaning thank God) a woman among the group exclaimed as she looked into the eyes of another women standing behind her. Their eyes met in approval and both put up a broad smile. Mandinaring is an out-of-the-way village situated some few kilometers away from the Brikama Highway. By many indications, the village is rapidly growing both in terms of size and population. And as a predominant farming community, horticultural gardening plays a significant role in socio-economic life of the villagers as a food provider, employer and income earner. But this aspect of agricultural activity which spans eight of the 12 months – the period of dry season - in a year is all about the village women who toil on the ground under the scorching sun making the best of the land they have at their disposal. They said, they hardly get help from their male counterparts in sharing the work burden. Any helping hand is usually from a girl child who helps in watering the beds and in taking care of their younger siblings. Yet their half-way well-fenced garden is often unprotected from largely-men-owned hungry animals that regularly eat away the fruit of their hardship and investment. Cindy Gregg shares a worry with her Club members: What in the world men will not help women in their garden and yet allow their animals to destroy the women’s vegetable crops and go unpunished and women uncompensated. The raising of this concern would unravel a world so unfair the Mandinaring women are living in. Forget for now what the constitution says regarding someone’s animal to cause destruction to another person or his or her livelihood. For the women confirm that under the community set up anyone whose animal destroys a garden is required to pay a compensation, if found guilty by a village or district tribunal headed by village headman or district chief respectively. The women however said, many decisions have been held in their favour, but none was enforced. Some explained that in some instances, they will handover the cattle they caught in their garden to the village authorities to sell it and return the money for the affected women to share. “The cattle are sold when no one claims ownership, but we have never seen the money,” says Binta Fatty, an educated village woman who would be hugged and kissed anytime she enters into the garden. “We must investigate that,” one woman charged, then erupted a loud murmur by the women in agreement. And when Cindy made another pledge that she will engage the Female Lawyers Association of Gambia to stand for them, the women were sent in a higher spirit. Meanwhile, at the group’s first visit, the top concern highlighted by women was inadequate supply of water. Some attributed the under-utilisation of the garden space to inadequate water supply. “My designated plot is over there,” a woman had earlier pointed at an unreasonable distance away from a well. “I am unable to utilise it because the well is very far away.” On the second visit, however, a greater majority of them appears to have agreed that fencing the garden is their primary concern. “What is it there to benefit from only if we have adequate water supply, but cannot protect our crops from animals,” an old woman has said. However, Sheikh Omar, a group member holds a different view. After measuring the length of the poorly fenced part of the garden, Sheikh Omar observed that the women have misplaced their priority. For him, providing the women with adequate water supply should be the priority in any intervention. Cindy agrees with him, even though the women had maintained ‘fence first.’ Without doubt, the difficulty the women face in identifying a single challenge as topmost, demonstrates that the challenges Mandinaring women gardeners encounter in their backbreaking struggles to live sustainable lives are numerous and equally pressing. The women need assistance in every department of their garden – from pre-planting and to post-marketing. For instance, there are indications that the women are poorly informed about the work they do and what they should do to maximise their productivity and profit. Lina otherwise Fatou Bajoang, a Peace Corps volunteer attached to Soil and Water Management Unit of the ministry of Agriculture, also a member of the project would better explain why some vegetable crops very near the well are in so bad shape?