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Economy, agriculture and food security
The GDP of the Gambia was about US$386 million in 2003. Agriculture accounted for 27.8 percent of GDP, and 78 percent of the total economically active population was employed in the sector. Agriculture accounts for about 90 percent of export earnings, and peanuts and peanut products make up about 70 percent of exports. Foodstuffs, especially rice, constitute the most important imports.
The Gambia’s preferred staple food is rice, which is traditionally cultivated primarily in the lowlands as a subsistence crop. Most farmers are too poor to buy the required fertilizer and agricultural machinery, and the small areas of cultivation and primitive farming technology keep output low, about 1.5 tonnes/ha. Of the total available food, only about half is produced in the country and the remaining 50 percent is made up of commercial imports and food aid. The food import bill was estimated to be US$40 million for the year 2002. However, there is a food shortage that affects about 54 percent of the rural and 33 percent of the urban population, especially during the rainy season when the calorie requirement is highest because of the intensive field work.
Agricultural farming in the Gambia is characterized by subsistence rainfed production, depending on the distribution and amount of rainfall. Farmland can be classified into upland and lowland:
- Upland soils are largely cultivated under the responsibility of men. The major crops are groundnuts (about 45 percent of the cultivated area), early millet, maize, sorghum, late millet, cotton and upland rice in decreasing order of importance; horticultural crops are also grown. In general, no soil or water conservation measures are undertaken, and the increasing population using incorrect methods of cultivation (e.g. land preparation up- and downslope) is gradually affecting the environment and causing soil erosion;
- Farming the lowlands is largely the responsibility of women. The main crop is rice that is grown in the wet season using hand cultivation on approximately 20 000 ha, primarily along the middle and lower reaches of the River Gambia. In the dry season, vegetables are cultivated in the lowlands.
The following main rice ecologies can be identified in the country:
- Tendaco, which is upland rice grown under shifting cultivation along the Atlantic Ocean coast south of Banjul.
- Wulumbango, which literally means upland valley. These are long, narrow upland depressions with a high water table, which drain into tributaries of the River Gambia, usually perpendicular to the river. They are found all over the country.
- Bantafaro, which are rainfed rice fields on gently sloping land on the edge of flood plains, tidal swamps, wulumbangos and back swamps. They are found throughout the country.
- Back swamps, which are depressions between river levees and the plateau, concentrated in the Upper Division. They flood with rainwater and surface runoff during the rainy season, while the levee impedes tidal flooding.
- Tidal swamps, which are located on the margins of the river and are divided into perennial freshwater tidal swamps and seasonally saline tidal swamps.
- Pump irrigated land, which is located in floodplains and along the river levees in the Upper Central and Upper River Divisions.