Problems, Benefits and Solutions
The Problems of Village Life
The main aim of Permaculture is to turn problems into sustainable solutions. There are plenty of problems in rural villages of the Gambia. Scarcity of food and no jobs being two of the main ones. These problems lead to a number of consequences:
- Almost all the young men migrate to the city in search of paid work. This results in the villages becoming bereft of strong, ambitious young men and leaves the old men, women and children to scratch out a very meagre subsistence existence as best they can.
- If the young men find work in the city and cannot come back to help with the farming in the rainy season, the family farms become neglected and food becomes even more scarce.
- The people that remain in the villages suffer from malnutrition and have little resistance to disease.
- Families are split up and separated. The villages are dying, life is dull and a valuable culture is lost to the world.
- Living conditions in the city area are squalid, overcrowded and noisy.
- Unsrupulous employers exploit the unlimited supply of disposable, expendable and cheap labour in the city area. Unskilled jobs are consequently low paid and insecure. No-one benefits except the "bosses".
- The cost of living is relatively expensive,and inflation rates can increase dramatically so the need for even more money increases. Often there is nothing left to send home to the family.
- Many are becoming criminals or bumsters - constantly searching for any means available to escape to the west - even if those means are dangerous, illegal or immoral.
The Benefits of Village Life
The benefits of staying in the village are often overlooked because of the overriding consideration of making money and procuring food. But these benefits are what I want to build upon. The quality of life possible in rural villages should be appreciated and the advantages not underestimated:
- Clean, pollution free environment, surrounded by beauty, nature and peace.
- Ownership of your own land - no rent to pay.
- Space and freedom to expand and develop.
- You live amongst your family and friends in familiar surroundings.
- You can enjoy a lot of "free food" and other materials from the bush by working with nature.
The advantages of running your own business instead of constantly seeking "employment" by foreign "bosses" should also be considered:
- More control over your own destiny - you make the decisions which affect you.
- All profits go directly to you and your family - no exploitation by outside "boss". The benefits of all your work and effort are built up for your own family now and in the years to come - the more you put in the more you get back.
- You retain your integrity and your dignity and can become a recognised and respected citizen in your society.
- The opportunity to play a part in the sustainable development of your community and environment. Taking responsibility for helping to conserve the existing benefits for the future generations to come.
A Permanent Two-fold Solution
There is in the Gambia wideapread migration of young men from the villages to the city. An alternative for some of them could be to make village life more appealing by helping them to set up their own businesses at home. This could attract some young men back to the countryside and bring life back into their villages. There is also an acute shortage of fresh food available in most rural villages and the longterm solution to this could be to aim these businesses at local food production, ie Market Gardening. Thus killing two birds with one stone.
Obviously these young men need a lot of help to start with but by tying the land to a trust and by using sustainable materials, sourced locally, renewable energy and permaculture techniques, these Home Farms can provide all year round food supplies for the village people indefinately and a permanent livelihood for the young men and their families.
Market Gardening is now seen as men's work, thanks to the big foreign owned gardening businesses employing men and boys in vast numbers and seen to be making a respectable profit. And the present generation of young men are enthusiastic to have the opportunity to build up something lasting for their future. The idea seems to have support from the older generation as well as they are keen to perpetuate and develop village life. The village men have a distinct advantage in that they already have access to land and many still have traditional skills which are ideal for use in sustainable development. What they do need is help to aquire the materials and equipment to get started and training in skills and techniques which are not going to destroy their natural environmental advantages in the longterm.