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Chapter 2. The change drivers

 

2.1. Economic and social context

The Gambia is a small country with a land area of about 11,000 km2 located on the westernmost tip of Africa and mostly surrounded by The Republic of Senegal. The Gambia is located in the Sahel, a region characterised by recurrent droughts, loss of vegetative cover and rapid environmental degradation. The Gambia has one of the highest population density in Sub-Saharan Africa with a population of over 1,3 million and growing at an annual rate of 4.2%. The Gambian population is mainly rural, with an estimated 70% living in the rural areas. Agriculture represents the major employer with over 75% - 85% of the population engaged in subsistence and cash crops farming. Agriculture reportedly contributes somewhere between 25 % of GDP and is by far the leading sector of the economy.

The Gambia has been ranked among the least developed countries of the world with an annual per capital income of about US $ 360 thus making it one of the poorest countries in the world. In the 2000 Human Development Report Gambiaís ranking is 161 out of 174 countries.

Although recent significant gains in the education and health sectors have moved it up the index. Life expectancy is estimated to be 54 years for women and 44 years for men. The adult literacy rate stands at 16% for women and 39% for men.

The forestry sector is reported to contribute about 1% to GNP although this figure does not seem to include the other services such as the informal trade in minor forest produce, medicinal uses of the forest produce and other environmental and social functions which are often not valued monetarily.

As the population of The Gambia continues to grow, the role of the forestry sector in socio-economic development will assume greater significance. It is estimated that there has been a steady increase in the demand for forest products as a result of the increase in population. Fuelwood still remains the primary source for domestic energy in the country. The natural forests provide somewhere between 80 - 85% of the primary domestic energy for more that 90% of the population. The population - fuelwood demand factor is likely to be the single most important factor causing forest degradation, see Annex 1 which shows the population trend in The Gambia.

 

2.2. Economic Performance and policies

The Gambia economy is agrarian based and subject to wide fluctuations conditioned by external market situations. At the time of gaining independence in 1965, the economy was in a relatively health state with impressive growth rates of between 7 - 8% in real terms. The agricultural sector is characterise by the cultivation of groundnuts although there have been recent attempts at crop diversification in the recent past. The export of groundnuts accounts for over 40% of the foreign exchange earnings. The Gambia also relies heavily on re-export trade to neighbouring countries and the trade accounts for about 16% of the GDP. Industry, tourism and the service industry are the other leading sectors of the economy.

Following the impressive growth in the economy during the first two decades following independence. The Gambian economy went into a recession. The situation became so untenable that the government with the assistance of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) embarked on a structural Adjustment Program known as the Economic recovery Program (ERP) from 1980 to 1985. At the peak of the economic crisis in 1985, the standard of living of the Gambian people had fallen by about 10% over the period from 1975 to 1985. The ERP was followed by the program for Sustained Development (PSD) from 1985 - 1990 which consolidated on the gains of the ERP and greatly reduced the sized of the public sector and instead put a great deal of emphasis on private sector participation in economic activities. Both structural adjustment programs registered significant achievement in the economy but the natural resource base, whose intensified exploitation made the economic recovery possible, continue to deteriorate sharply. The situation warrants the elaboration of a national environmental strategy, which was adopted for implementation by government in 1993.

Both the ERP and PSD programs witnessed a considerable down scaling of central government involvement in the affairs of the economy. Although the private sector did take up the challenges offered by the new frontiers in the economic sector, there is virtually no private sector investment in the forestry sector. The government releasing that it cannot do it alone in forest management initiated the community forest management approach in partnership with collaborating communities.

Government policies regarding the management of natural resources favour the exploitation of the natural resources for the provision of employment, that of meeting basic human needs and the generation of foreign exchange. Agriculture will continue to be the leading sector for sometime to come. Agricultural systems have evolved from extensive land use systems characterise by shifting cultivation to more intensive mono-cropping system due to land scarcity. Nonetheless, there is considerable conversion of marginal lands and the opening of forests for crop cultivation.

The structural Adjustment Programmers, which The Gambia was said to have successful implemented, sought to provide a regime of economic liberalisation with private sector participation being the cornerstone of the policies.

 

2.3. Policy and institutional changes in the forestry sector

The history of the forestry sector development in The Gambia has been marked by protection measures on the side of government regarding the management of forest resources. Recognising the important role that the forest sector plays in development, areas with promising forest cover were demarcated all over the county and designated as either forest parks or protected areas. The Forestry Department was upgraded form a unit of the Department of Agriculture and given a specific mandate in term of managing the forest resources. The central policy feature of The Department of Forestry is as follows:

To maintain at least 30% of the total land area of the country under forest;

To manage at least 75% of the forest lands according to scientific principles;

To promote towards environmental protection, particularly soil erosion and soil desiccation; and

To contribute to employment, the provision of basic necessities such as fuelwood supply and the generation of foreign earnings through the export of high quality forest products

As a government department, The Forestry Department continues to suffer from low funding, under-staffing and is therefore ill equipped to effectively manage the countryís forest resources. Given the limitations in resources, The Forestry Department was consequently given mandate to manage only the 66 national arks, which constitute only 7% of the land area. The rest of the areas under forest are managed by the local communities who often lack the technical capabilities to manage them according to scientific management principles.

Beginning in 1987, the governmentís forest policy changed from one of state control to that of joint management with rural communities. Based on the principles of partnership with the local communities, the Community Forestry Program model was introduced on a trial basis starting with a few communities in Western Gambia. The Community Forestry program adopts a bottom-up approach with partnership agreements between The Forestry Department and local communities. In the Communities Forestry Management model, the role of the Forestry Department is mainly restricted to providing advice and technical backstopping. The benefits accruing form the sale of forest products are shared between government and the local communities. Breaches of contracts by the local communities may lead to revoking the agreement by government. The Community Forestry Program has yielded impressive results and is currently being replicated in other regions of the country. There is a high demand of communities applying for this type of forest management, which is difficult to meet due to resource constraints on the side of The Forestry Department. Initial results of the program has reported improved status for the forest resources and the elimination of bush fire incidences, which is one of the leading causes of forest degradation in the country.

The Government of The Gambia has recently (1998) embarked on a program of decentralisation of decision making. Under the decentralisation program, power will be decentralised to local authorities that will be expected to be responsible for all aspects of decision making. The local government authorities in each region will be responsible for raising revenue through taxation and to be in charge of their own development agenda. These changes are likely to have major impacts on the way the forest resources will be managed.

Having ratified the 3 Rio conventions on the environment, The Gambia undertook the preparation of national action plans for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) and the Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD). The preparation of the above-mentioned action plans called for the elaborationís of appropriate framework including institutional and regulatory aspects. All three conventions are likely to have overlaps in many areas and the synergy between them has to be properly looked into.

 

2.4. Development in the agriculture sector

The Government of the Gambia affords a high priority to the development of the agricultural sector. Agriculture is important for the attainment of food security, employment and the generation of foreign exchange reserves. The agriculture sector policies are geared towards crop diversification, sustainable fisheries development and livestock development both for export and subsistence. Of recent, the sector has witnessed significant investments in vegetable production both for the home and European market. The latter trend is likely to increase given The Gambia nearness to Europe and ideal weather conditions for vegetable production.

Rice continues to be the stable food of Gambians and both irrigated and rainfed rice production has received substantial investments in the past. Rice is grown in about 20,000 ha of lowland, mostly under rained conditions. The Gambia continues to import about half of its rice requirements as local production levels are too low given available technology. The area under irrigated rice is expected to increase though at a modest rate.

The cash crop sub-sector is dominated by the production of groundnuts (Arachis hypogea) which is grown mainly as an oilseeds and confectionery crop for export. Falling producer price and drought saw a dramatic drop in the production of groundnuts. Corresponding to the decline in groundnut production has been a marked increased in the production of coarse grains. The total area under crop farming in a given year is estimated to be slightly over 180,000 ha. Of this total, about 50% of the area (90,000 ha), is allocated to coarse grains.

For the foreseeable future, crop farming is likely to be the major preoccupation for the rural folk both for employment and income generation.

 

2.5. Industrial policy and developments

The draft National Industrial Policy (NIP, 1994) was articulated to provide a framework for industrial development in The Gambia. The policy urges government to provide a favourable environment to stimulate industrial development through the provision of incentive regimes for private investors, reducing custom tariffs and company taxes, reducing administrative bottlenecks, and investing in human resource development. Certain prime land areas (Kanifing Industrial Estate and the Tourism Development Area) have been set aside specifically for industrial development. Despite the development the NIP, the industrial sector remains underdeveloped due to a number of factors including institutional, infrastructure, administrative, legal, financial and others. The industrial sector is dominated by small-scale manufacturing, which contributes about 6.5% to GDP. The formal manufacturing sector is dominated by the food industry, which include beverage facilities, fish processing plants, abattoirs, sweets and milk processing plants.

 

2.6. Change in energy use

There are two main sources of energy in The Gambia, fuelwood and petroleum imports. Meeting the energy requirements of its population and industry are extremely difficulties that the country is faced with.

Fuelwood is the main source of primary energy for over 90% of the population accounting for more than 80% of the energy source. The increasing demand for fuelwood by the rapidly increasing population is the main cause of deforestation in The Gambia, Petroleum ranks as the second most important source of energy in the country accounting for about 11% of total primary energy requirements. The country imports all its petroleum requirements thus placing a burden on foreign exchange reserves. The country has limited electricity power generating capacity with frequent power cuts in the supply.

In an effort to finding alternatives to fossil-based energy supplies, the government of the Gambia implemented a CILLS Regional Butane gas project in 1989. The program was funded by the European Union (EU) and had limited initial success. Under the program, bottled (Butane) gas was introduced into the country on a big scale as a substitute for fuelwood and targeting mainly the urban areas. The bottled gas was imported from neighbouring Senegal where it is relatively cheap compared to prices prevailing in The Gambia. The Butane gas project did not provide an alternative to fuelwood, as its price tag was well beyond affordability for the average Gambian.

Other alternative sources of energy which have been tried in The Gambia include solar power, groundnut shell and saw dust briquette. In addition to promotion the use of LPG as a cooking fuel substitute, other measures such as the ban on the making of charcoal (1980), the introducing of improved cooking stoves and the creation of the Gambia Renewable Energy Centre (GREC) to carry out research into alternative forms of energy are important developments. Despite the constrains, there remain tremendous potentials in the areas of alternative sources of energy in the country.

 

2.7. Developments in infrastructure and communications

Road transport is the main means of transportation in the country. A major road network serves both banks of the country linking all major towns together. On the north bank of the country, the road network is generally poor and some areas could be inaccessible during the rains. There is a good network of telephone system and most towns and villages are served by telephones. The Gambia has severe constrains in terms of electricity supply and the generation capacity cannot meet the ever growing demand. There are good port facilities and the government has taken advantage of the comparative advantages offered by these facilities to vigorously promote trade with its neighbours.

 

2.8. Trade liberalisation

Building on the gains achieved by the economic reform measures undertaken between 1985 and 1995, government created on atmosphere conducive for private sector participation in the economic sector through major policy reforms and trade liberalisation measures. Recently, the Government of The Gambia has embarked on an ambitious program of promoting trade with its neighbours in the sub-region through the creation of an export-processing zone within the port vicinity and environs. This project, known as the Trade Gateway Project is likely to have an impact on the natural resources sector as it will be commodity-based export oriented. Overall, there are expected to be steady increases in private sector participation in the economy as government involvement in the public sector is being gradually reduced through privatisation.

 

 

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