FAO in the 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 172 out of 189 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 about 30% 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 the SDGs. 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 sector comprises of two main sub-sectors of artisanal (or small scale) and industrial fisheries. Of the two main sub-sectors, the artisanal fisheries are considered to contribute more meaningfully to livelihoods and the economy. It is the major supplier of animal protein for the population and plays a pivotal role in poverty reduction and food security. It provides employment, income, and is the main source of fish supply for domestic consumption and export through fish processing in exporting establishments that export high value added fishery products . Hence, the Government places priority on the development of fisheries and aquaculture and seeks to provide the enabling environment for the active involvement of players including the private sector, in its development.

The Gambian fisheries sector has significant potentials to increase its contribution to national socio‑economic development. It is a source of relatively cheap, high value animal protein - food for the general population; a source of employment, revenue and foreign exchange earnings.

Endowed with abundant and diverse fish species, the fisheries sector has great potential to make substantial contribution to the socio-economic development of the country. The realization of these objectives and the sustenance of a healthy ecosystem depend on a judicious management, rational and sustainable production methods and efficient utilization of fish stocks.

The country has considerable natural resources suitable for aquaculture. There are vast aquaculture potential areas in the country which are yet to be exploited. The Gambia is endowed with a river that runs along the entire length of the country. The river Gambia has freshwater resources that can withstand enormous extraction for various aquaculture practices. The aquaculture development plan of the country has placed special emphasis on shrimp, fish and oyster culture under the national resource management strategy. As a result, aquaculture can play a vital role in the attainment of food security, poverty reduction and sustainable development.

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


The Gambia has forest cover of 480,000 hectares (about 44% of the total land area), but nearly 70% of these forests are degraded. The country has primary forests of 800 hectares, other naturally regenerated forests of 477,800 hectares and planted forests of 1400 hectares (Forest Resources Assessment 2010). The major part of the country belongs to the Sudano-Sahelian agro-ecological zone with a pronounced dry season from October to May; the natural vegetation zone is woodland savannah.

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 and capacity.

A flagship programme called “Community Forestry” was introduced in early 1990s with the aim to transfer ownership of state forests to local communities in the form of community forests. As a result, the sub-sector policy was reoriented from1996 towards participatory forest management for improvement of livelihoods of local people and for environmental protection.

A special programme for promoting livelihood enhancement called “Community-based forest product enterprise development” using the FAO Market Analysis and Development (MA&D) approached  introduced to support the community forestry programme is now enhancing the income stream of forest adjacent communities and equally contributing to environmental protection.