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Gender and Land Rights Database

Gambia

In 2005, the estimated population was 1 517 000 people, of which 752 000 were male and 765 000 were female. Of the total population, 1 121 000 live in rural areas and 396 000 live in urban settings (1). Over 60 percent of the population is under 25 years of age (2).

The main ethnic groups in the country are: Malinke, who account for 36.9 percent of the total, Wolof, who account for 14.4 percent, Fulani, who make up 13.6 percent, and Soninke, Tukulor, Diola and other minorities who account for 7.3, 6.7, 4.3 and 16.8 percent respectively. More than 90 percent of the population is Muslim (2). In 2005, 772 000 people were estimated to be economically active, out of which 424 000 were male and 348 000 were female (1).

The country’s economy is based mainly on tourism and groundnut cultivation. Poor rainfall in 2002 affected crops and caused a decline in real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth. The economy has since recovered and the real GDP averaged 6 percent annual growth between 2003 and 2006, mainly due to tourism, telecommunications and construction (2). In 2007, GDP was US$2 146 billion and per capita GDP was estimated at US$1 300 (3). In 2008, agriculture contributed 33 percent to GDP, industry contributed 8.7 percent and services accounted for 58.3 percent (3).

Agriculture provides employment to 68 percent of the labour force (4).

About 75 percent of the population depends on crops and livestock for its livelihood (3). The agricultural sector is characterized by the production of rainfed subsistence crops – such as coarse grains, rice and cassava –, traditional livestock rearing, semi-commercial groundnut and horticultural production, a small cotton subsector and a large traditional fisheries subsector. The livestock sector contributes 24 percent to agricultural GDP, groundnuts contribute 23 percent, fisheries and forestry each contribute 3 percent and other crops account for 43 percent (4).

With a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.471 in 2006, the country ranked 160th out of 179 countries measured (6). In the period 2001–2003, the undernourished population was estimated to be 27 percent of the total (4). In 2003, 61.3 percent of the population was living below the national poverty line and 34.3 percent was living below the US$1 per day line (7). The adult literacy rate is 49 percent for women and 65.2 percent for men (8). Life expectancy at birth between 2005 and 2010 was estimated at 59 years for men and 60 years for women (9).

Rural women constitute about half of the productive population and are the main producers of rice, which is the staple food crop of the country (10). Women grow rice in the lowlands and care for small stock and vegetable gardens, while men grow coarse grains and groundnuts in the uplands (4). Although rural women work twice as much as men, on average, their access to means of production and training is negligible and inequality regarding land ownership in rural areas is pervasive (11). The country has 69 100 farm holdings. Cultivated land represents 305 000 ha, or 55 percent of the total arable land area of 558 000 ha (4).

Land tenure policies in the country have upheld customary mechanisms and institutions in the rural areas (12). The Land [Provinces] Act of 1995 preserves the existing customary rights of the inhabitants of the provinces, vesting the authority over customary tenure systems in district authorities (8),  each of which is headed by a district chief or seyfo (12). In this system, rights to land are determined largely through membership in kinship or lineage groups (3), are inheritable and relatively secure. However, neither individuals nor households have rights to specific parcels of grazing land (13).

While customary practices continue to dominate, government efforts to centralize control over land and natural resources have been ongoing. In 1991, the government passed the State Lands Act of 1990 which calls for the establishment of Land Administration Boards for the greater Banjul area and for each of the country’s five divisions.

The Act gives the Ministry of Local Government and Lands the authority to supersede traditional tenure for any area of land that it designates and declares to be state land. Land holdings on that state land would take the form of 99-year leases to be administered at the division level by the Land Administration Boards (13). The intention of the law is to provide greater and more equitable tenure security to landholders as well as opportunities for acquiring formal credit in order to stimulate investment in residential, commercial and agricultural land (12).

Although the State Lands Act remains largely unimplemented, the government has continued to investigate traditional tenure systems, primarily through two bodies: the Law Reform Commission and the inter-ministerial Working Group on Resource Tenure and Land-use Planning. The Working Group on Resource Tenure and Land-use Planning has conducted a series of case studies in each of the five divisions in an effort to gain a detailed understanding of land and resource tenure systems and to identify key problem areas. The Law Reform Commission has been investigating adjudication procedures for land disputes, both in the traditional sector with district chiefs, or Seyfolu, and district tribunals, and in the formal sector with the courts (13).

Traditionally, women borrow the land they cultivate from their husbands, their husbands’ families or other members of the village. On a more limited scale, women in some ethnic groups may also inherit land from their mothers, which then may be passed on to their daughters. In this case, women are considered owners rather than borrowers. Women and land borrowers have less secure rights to land than male founding family members (12). As of 2002, women holders were 8.2 percent of the total (14).

From 1997 to 2005, under the Lowlands Agricultural Development Programme (LADEP), founder-settlers reached an agreement with landless farmers, mostly women, by which idle lands with difficult physical access that hindered cultivation were made available for reclamation. LADEP changed the traditional land tenure system by supporting the devolution of individually-owned land back to the community and the sharing and redistribution of new communal land among individuals who participated in land reclamation. About 22 000 women gained access to land ownership through LADEP (15).

Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography