The Forestry Department experiences low funding and inadequate staffing. The most serious staff shortages are at the field level. A policy change of state control to one of joint forest management with the rural communities has been adopted. Initial reports indicate that there has been reduction of bushfires in the trial areas. The concept focuses on communities that have already established their community forests.
About 93% of the country’s forest cover is not under any controlled management by either the Forestry Department or the adjacent communities. These forests are undergoing deterioration.
There is also a relatively high proportion of deadwood in the "High Mangrove" due to the lack of knowledge in mangrove management coupled with inadequate access.
Due to the high costs of plantation establishment, management and protection, the Forestry Department in 1985 decided to focus more on natural forest management.
The majority of trees outside forests are protected by the communities mainly for their medicinal, food and fodder values.
Under the Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (BSAP), the area under wildlife conservation would be increased from 3.4% to 5% of the total land area.
There is a high growth of human and livestock populations. There is no appropriate forest management system in place. Hence bushfires, the cutting of fuelwood, overgrazing and encroachments on the forest resource by shifting cultivation and human settlements are relatively uncontrolled.
It has been assessed that fuelwood demand is likely to be the single most important factor in forest degradation. Bushfires are also very important in this respect.
The mangrove forests are under threat from Oyster collectors who cut the aerial roots where they are anchored during the high tide in addition to clearing for rice farming.
Annual soil erosion is estimated at about 12tons/ha/yr.
Recurrent droughts are adversely affecting the country’s water supplies. There is over-exploitation of the water resources that has caused a lowering of the water table. The latter is affecting the vegetation cover in the western part of the country.
There are two private, two government sawmills and several re-saw machines. The current local supply of raw material to this industry cannot be sustained in the future.
Land & Tree Tenure
Most of the forest reserves are located on customary lands.
90% of the population use fuelwood. The latter also forms about 85% of the domestic energy. Attempts to import butane gas from Senegal as an alternative to fuelwood did not succeed as it was not affordable by the average Gambian. The per capita consumption of fuelwood is estimated at about 0.44 m3. The current electricity generating capacity cannot meet the demand.
75-85% of the population is engaged in subsistence and cash crop farming. Considerable conversion of marginal lands and opening of forests for crop cultivation takes place.
Agriculture is the leading sector of the economy contributing about 25% of the GDP. The export of groundnuts accounts for 40% of the foreign exchange earnings. The export of this primary commodity is subject to price fluctuations in the external market as well as droughts. The contribution of the forestry sector to the GDP is estimated at about 1%.
The significant achievements of the Economic Recovery Programme (ERP: 1985-1990) intensified the exploitation of the natural resource base that continue to deteriorate. There was however virtually no investment in the forestry sector.
The Gambia is one of the poorest countries in the world ranking 161 out of 174 countries in the 200 Human Development Report.
High population growth
The Gambia has one of the highest population densities in sub-Saharan Africa with a population growth rate of 4.2%.
70% of the population lives in the rural areas. The literacy rate for women and men is about 16% and 39% respectively.