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FAO in Gambia

Gambia at a glance

The Republic of Gambia is one of the smallest countries in West Africa surrounded by the republic of Senegal on the northern, eastern and southern sides, and bounded on the Atlantic Ocean. It has a total land area of about 11,000 square kilometres/extending approximately 400 km eastwards with widths varying from about 80 kilometres at the Atlantic cost to about 24 to 28 km in the east. The country has a human development index ranking of 160 out of 179 nations. The agricultural production is the main economy activity in the Gambia but has declined throughout the 1990’s as a result of several factors including poor rainfall distribution, weak marketing infrastructure, lack of access to credit (especially for the youths and women) and a limited resource base.

Generally Gambian agriculture has been characterised by subsistence production of food crops, comprising cereals (early millet, late millet, maize, sorghum, rice), semi intensive cash crop production (groundnut, cotton, sesame and horticulture). Farmers generally practice mixed farming, although crops accounts for a greater portion of the production. The agricultural sector is characterized by little diversification, mainly subsistence rain-fed agriculture with a food self-sufficiency ration of about 50%. The crops sub-sector generates approximately 40% of the foreign exchange earnings and provides about 75% of total household income. The crop-sub-sector employs 70 percent of the labour force, and accounts for 33% of GDP of the country.

Livestock production in the Gambia is still predominantly traditional i.e. low input extensive system of husbandry. Current livestock population is estimated at around 300,000 cattle; 140-150,000 sheep and 200,000-230,000 goats. The poultry population in 2007 comprised 300,000 broilers, 18,500 commercial layers and 550.000 local chickens (DLS).


Despite the primary role of the agriculture sector in the economy, its performance and share in most key socio-economic indicators in the past decade have not been consistent, and in some years, performance in production stagnated or even declined. This has been attributed to a combination of factors including the following; adverse climatic conditions from 1968 to the first half of 90s through to the early years of the present millennium (2000); application of Structural Adjustment Programmes without sequencing in the mid to late 1980s, low private investment, especially in value added, declining international agricultural commodity prices; soaring prices of food commodities and essential production inputs; inadequate domestic policies, institutional support and investment in the sector, particularly roads and equipment.

The Gambia's salt and fresh waters have abundant and diverse resources. It has a total continental shelf area of 3855 sq. km on the Atlantic Ocean in one of the richest fishing zones of the world. Species present include pelagic and demersal fish, as well as crustaceans and shellfish. With a theoretical annual MSY of 65,000 - 75,000 MT and estimated annual exploitation of around 45,000 MT, the fisheries resources are believed to be under-exploited.

Food Insecurity

Production of food commodities for local consumption heavily depends on the weather. The country produces about 50 percent of its domestic requirements. The country relies on rice imports from the international market to cover its consumption needs, and food prices are strongly affected by the exchange rate of the Dalasi. Soaring international food prices and low national production are leading to high inflationary pressure on the domestic food market, eroding the purchasing power of urban and rural consumers.

Subsistence farming households do not produce enough in their mono crop system to achieve a marketable surplus. Income from agriculture and other sources is limited often due to insufficient output marketing opportunities. Poor rural households have to bridge a food deficit period between 4 to 6 months, generally in the raining season.

Agriculture is the key sector for investment to achieve long-term food security as well as reducing poverty levels as stated in Vision 2020 and MDG. In order to achieve these goals the agricultural sector needs to be transformed from subsistence farming to market oriented commercial enterprises. Comparative advantages of agricultural and human resources need to be built, emphasising productivity increases and competitiveness.

Fisheries and Aquaculture

The fisheries sub-sector is both industrial and artisanal, with the latter accounting for about two thirds of the total catch. Marine fish resources are enhanced by the freshwater flows of the River Gambia. Prolific mangrove growth supports thriving ecosystems and the brackish and freshwater zones of the middle and upper regions are also rich in crabs and shrimps, with great potential for aquaculture.

The River Gambia is one of the major rivers in West Africa and is navigable up to 390 km upstream. Studies by FAO suggest that there is high pressure on demersal fish stocks and the Government is trying to reduce fishing of these species. But pelagic fish are believed to be under-exploited as they are mainly caught by artisanal fishermen using gill nets and sold in urban markets.

Key constraints to the development of fisheries, especially artisanal fisheries, include post-harvest losses, weak extension and research systems and poor marketing infrastructure.

The Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) in the Gambia has provided a wealth of examples of community organisation and specific food security activities such as water harvesting, improved and diversified production including poultry, small ruminants, aquaculture, mushrooms, exotic fruits, cashew and rice to achieve local food security.


There is currently a heightened awareness of the importance and value of the Forestry sub sector macro-economic development of the country, particularly to food and nutrition security for poverty reduction, economic growth, climate change implications, conservation of the country’s biodiversity and its fragile ecology. Nonetheless, the constrains in the sub sector are mainly structural, particularly weak institutional setting, with the sub sector policy not yet operational that will provide guidance on the nature and scope of taking advantage of the opportunities the sub sector offers, at the same time ensuring its sustainable management.