The country outlook paper for The Gambia is intended to project an outlook for the forest sector by analysing available information and to put in place appropriate measures for the realisation of sustainable forest management principles. The country outlook paper will determine the present status of forestry in The Gambia, and to predict the likely situation that is likely to develop in forestry in the next 20 years if those trends continue. The analysis will exclusively review the existing documentation on the sector. The analysis will finally include an assessment of the probable implications in economic, social and environmental terms. The findings of the exercises hall be used to advice policy makers and would go a long way towards the formulation of appropriate strategies for the forest sector.
The Gambia is a country on the West-coast of Africa, lying between latitude 13 o and 14 o N. It extends inland for about 400 kilometres along the banks of the River Gambia at widths varying from 24 to 28 kilometres, covering an approximate land area of 11,000 square kilometres. It is bordered on the North, South and east by the Republic of Senegal and on the West by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of about 1.1 million (1993 census), growing at a rate of 4.2 percent per annum, The Gambia is a multiethnic and multiracial society with an unparalleled degree of ethnic, racial and religious tolerance and civil tranquillity.
The Gambia is endowed with a very limited number of mineral resources of economic importance. The only mineral of great economic importance is sand (quartz or silica sand) whose demand is on the increase by the day especially in the urban areas. So far only traces of gold and tin have been discovered in the upper reaches in the river i.e. in Upper River Division (URL) and CD. The other economically viable minerals identified include heavy minerals (illuminate, retile, zircon), kaolinitic clay and plastic clay. All these deposits can support small - to medium - scale manufacturing industries for both domestic and foreign markets. Rutile is used mainly for the manufacture of welding electrodes and as a raw material for the pigment industry. Illuminate is used in the manufacture of titanium dioxide, titanium salts and titanium metal. Zircon is used in ceramics; refractors (high temperature clay bricks); foundries (high temperature castings).
The vegetation of the Gambia includes the southern Guinea Savannah in the West and the Open Sudano Savannah towards the East. The southern Guinea Savannah is rather an open woodland with tall grasses up to 5 meters high, trees and shrubs including broad - leafed species and forming a two stored canopy, broken and giving a light shade.
The Sudano Savannah which occupies the drier areas in the eastern and northern parts of the country, has lower grasses and trees the majority of which do not exceed 15 meter, and are mostly small - leafed and thorn bearing. It is characterised by extensive areas of marginal land with lateritic ridges and shallow soils.
There is relatively little undisturbed vegetation in The Gambia and the open parkland dominates much of the country, with small groups of well-grown trees. Elsewhere, the tall shrub and low tree canopy are secondary fallow vegetation and most canopies are secondary fallow vegetation and most often of less than twenty years growth.
The Gambia has a variety of habitats or unique sites of plant and animal species diversity, which is partly due to a constellation of physical factors. Being near the ocean, the country is subjected to tidal influences throughout most of it length, and thus carries salt water up to 240 km inland, depending upon the season and annul rainfall. This in turn allows the development of inland mangroves and often adjacent salt pans or salty swamp up river. Above the salt water boundary, strips of riverine forests and thickets fringe the river where they have not been subjected to human disturbance.
Forests and woodlands are an important natural resource base supporting a variety of life systems. Forty percent (40%) of the country’s total land area is under forest with close and open woodland accounting for 10% and the remainder consisting of Savannah woodland. But his resource is under severe pressure mainly from high growth of human and livestock population, lack of meaningful forest production and management system, uncontrolled blush fire and cutting of firewood, overgrazing and unplanned encroachment of cropping and human settlement.
The Gambia’s forests can be divided into open and closed woodlands, though further distinction can be made based on composition and structure. Sudanian woodland dominates with Guinea woodland confined primarily to the southwestern part of the country. Guinea woodland now appears in small relic patches, which have considerable bio-diversity value for numerous species of flora and fauna (e.g. 26 species of birds are specifically associated with this closed canopy forest).
Forests in Gambia provide most of the wood products for local consumption. They provide 85% of the country’s domestic energy in the form of fuel wood for over 90% of the population. They provide about 17% of the timber used in construction and are an important source of food, medicine, job opportunities and income. The coastal forests protect the coastal and riverbanks against erosion and are an important natural habitat and breeding grounds for various aquatic life and sanctuary for migratory birds. More generally, forests protect against soil desiccation and wind erosion, optimise rainfall percolation and distribution, as well as ameliorating temperature effects. They are critical for biological diversity conservation and sustainability.
Compared to other Sahelian countries, The Gambia is considered to have a significant forest cover, which has been estimated to cover about 40% of the total land area. The forested areas have been categories into the following:
National gazetted forest parks, spread all over the entire country, numbering 66 in total and constituting about 7% of the land area;
Community forest reserves (300, 000 ha) of potentially suitable areas;
Open access forests which are not managed at all;
Coastal forests consisting entirely of mangroves of which there are about 66,000 ha; and
Protected areas serving as wildlife sanctuaries, estimated to cover 3.4% of the land area
In The Gambia, forest play multiple functions including the provision of domestic energy for cooking, building materials in the form of poles and timber, medicinal products, wild fruits and nut, honey and other services. The environmental functions include soil erosion control, carbon sequestration and the enhancement of local climatic conditions.