Gambia’s Horses, Donkeys Threatened In Food Shortage

(Horsetalk) – A charity holds fears for the horses and donkeys of Gambia, as a severe food shortage in the poor West African nation begins to bite.

The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust, a small British-based charity, has stressed the need to keep the nation’s crucial working animals in as good a condition as possible, to ensure they are ready to pitch in for their owners when conditions improve.

“The farming communities of The Gambia are facing real difficulties and, of course, when the people suffer, the animals suffer too,” a trust spokeswoman said.

“In order to prevent the crisis from worsening it is essential that we keep the animals healthy, so that they’re ready and able to work when hopefully the rains start again this year.

“If the present situation continues, the animals that survive will be in such poor condition from starvation that they will be unable to work, thus creating a downward spiral.

“The animals are essential to the livelihoods of Gambian farmers – without them the farmers are unable to carry out their farming duties.

“Malnutrition increases the risk of infection and infectious diseases, which are common in The Gambia, and is a major risk factor to humans and animals alike.”

The charity noted that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation had declared the need for urgent support in areas of West Africa, including The Gambia, due to a severe food shortage.

The trust said poor and unpredictable rain patterns in 2011 meant the harvest was extremely poor.

“This has resulted in a shortage of fodder for livestock as well as shortages of food for Gambian families. Numerous families are facing severe malnutrition and possible starvation.

“The shortage has also resulted in a dramatic increase in grain and fodder prices, making it extremely difficult for poor farming communities to be able to afford to purchase these items. Urgent action is required to prevent a full-scale food and nutrition crisis.”

The trust works to reduce rural poverty through improving the health and welfare of working equines, through a combination of veterinary services and education of animal owners and their children.

It said that during the current dry season, little plant life is able to survive.

Gambian farmers rely on the previous year’s harvest to feed their animals, but these supplies are now severely depleted and even completely diminished in some areas.

The rains usually begin in June or July, which marks the start of the farming season.

Gambian farmers rely heavily on livestock, and particularly on equines, for farming duties such as ploughing and sowing, and these animals are essential for the survival of Gambian families.

“We are currently consulting with Gambian Authorities and other experts to find the best way to help alleviate the problems. This may involve shipping fodder for the animals in the worst hit areas as a stop gap until the rains fall and the grass begins to grow.

“We are urging people to help in any way that you can. If you are able to make a donation to the Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust, however small or large, please do. We really do desperately need your help to enable us to help the farming families in The Gambia through this very difficult time of crisis.”