main cash crop of The Gambia is groundnuts.
The country is primarily a agricultural country with 80 percent
of the population of just over 2
million depending on agriculture for its food and cash income.
The farming economy is the
only means of income creation for the majority of rural families
most whom live below the poverty
agricultural sector is the most important sector of the Gambian
economy, contributing 32%
of the gross domestic product, providing employment and income
for 80% of the population, and accounting for 70% of the country's
foreign exchange earnings. It remains the prime sector to raise
income levels, for investments, to improve food security and reduce
levels of poverty.
About 54% of the land area in The Gambia is good quality
arable land (5,500 square kilometres), out of which about 39% (1,880
sq. km) is currently farmed by the 41,000 subsistence farmers in The
Gambia. About 810 sq. km. (81,000 hectares) are
irrigable, all in the (CRD) Central River Division (56%) and (URD) Upper River
Division (44%). About 2,300 hectares of this potential area, are currently
under irrigation. Crop production is quite diversified. Cash
crops such as
cotton and groundnuts are grown in the up-land areas and rice in
lowland, riverine areas (rain-fed swamps or under irrigation) for both
subsistence and cash. Other principal subsistence cereal crops grown
are maize, sorghum and millet. When the sector is looked at by gender
51% are women.
The climate is largely semi-arid with one wet season followed
by a seven month dry season. The rainy season commences from June and
continues to October. Average daily temperatures are 28.2° C in the
dry season and 28° C in the rainy season. Low levels of soil moisture prevailing in September
and October, can adversely effect crop harvests.
Based on the rainfall pattern, there are 3 major agro-ecological zones
in Gambia namely Sahelian, Sudan-Sahelian and Sudan-Guinean
zones. The Sahelian Zone has a Sahelian micro-climate with open dry
season savannah vegetation. Rainfall is unpredictable and less than 600-mm
total annually, with an effective crop-growing season of less than 79
days. Soils have low water retention capacity and this is a high-risk
area for long-duration crops. Thus early maturing, short-duration and
drought tolerant crops are cultivated in this zone. Cassava, sesame
are the main produce with millet grown only occasionally
because of the risk that birds would consume their crop.
The Sudan-Sahelian Zone lies within
the 600 to 900 millimeter rainfall area. With a longer growing season,
79 to 119 days, the up-land areas are well suited to groundnut, cotton
and sorghum. The flood plains along The Gambia River and associated
lowland valley systems are an excellent rice growing catchment under
tidal swamp irrigation.
The Sudan- Guinean Zone lies
within the 900 to 1200 mm rainfall isohyets. The growing season is
120-150 days and in normal seasons full crop water requirements are
met throughout the growing season. In some lowland areas the long dry
season results in increased salinisation of The
Gambia River and an
emphasis on saline tolerant rice varieties. The principal crops
cultivated in this agro-ecology are early millet, groundnut, rice
(rain-fed upland and lowland, irrigated lowland, mangrove and mangrove
salt-tolerant), maize, vegetable, sesame and cowpea.
Social Organisation of Production:
from pump irrigated rice (mostly
controlled by men), traditional lowland swamp or river-bank
rice is mainly women's responsibility, but with variation
among ethnic groups,
particularly in terms of control of produce.
Among the Mandinka both kamangyango and maruo
rice production is carried out by women farmers. The female sinkiro head controls the maruo rice.
Men rarely help women with their crops and women return the
favour and do not assist
men with their upland crops, even during the busy weeding and
Within the Jola community women are the
principal rice growers. The majority of maruo rice is controlled
by a male sinkiro head.
Among the Wolof and
Fula, who have only begun growing rice in
the past two decades, the gender division of labour and control
of the rice crop tends to be more flexible. Rice is still mainly
grown by women but men are likely to contribute. The maruo rice
crop tends to be managed by the male sinkiro head.
Agriculture is communally organized among Gambian farmers. It is
therefore important to develop a basic understanding of Gambian
rural families in analyzing the farming systems that have
developed over the years.
A family unit consisting of dwellings and a private yard.
Smaller sub-divisions of the compound are the Dabada and Sinkiros.
is defined as the farm production unit in which two or more
individuals (within the same compound) cultivate farms, outside
the communal farm, for their own individual needs.
Sinkiros refers to the cooking and consumption group within or outside the
compound. Sinkiros provide basis for the compound’s organisation
of storage, processing and consumption of foods. The women in
the Sinkiro group are responsible for cooking on rotational
basis. In many cases, the dabada unit coincides with the
Sinkiro, as members not only work together, but may also eat
Two types of farm units are common: the communal farm called
Maruo and the individual or private farm known as Kamanyango.
Maruo consists of a set of fields on which all members of the
compound unit, usually men and women separately, cultivate
together to provide the bulk of food required for the
subsistence of the compound members. The compound head makes
allocation of food and produce from the granary to each
participating family according to its needs. Kamanyango farm:
Individual members (male or female) of the compound can clear
land and create private farms (Kamanyango) on which they work to
produce food and other crops to provide for the extra needs of
their immediate families and to supplement the main portion
received from the central pool. The Compound head may assign
certain days in the week or hours of the day for communal work,
to ensure that both the interest of compound and those of its
individual members are catered for.
In The Gambia, each village has an identifiable area of land
that falls within the jurisdiction of its own headman (Alkalo).
The land is usually not legally registered. Families or
individuals in a village establish claim over a piece of land by
tracing their decent, more often patri-linearly to the first
The Alkalo has the power to allocate land to compounds in
the village. Any compound head has the right to clear un-claimed
land within the village’s area of jurisdiction. The piece of land is
thereafter held in perpetuity by the compound that first cleared
it. The inheritance laws provide for the transfer of compound
land to the next eldest male member of the family in case the
compound head dies; thus stabilizing the degree of land
fragmentation that is allowed to occur.
There are 3 main avenues for a woman to obtain land
(alluvial rice land or swamp): (i) through her spouse, the
fields so acquired have usually been worked by her mother
in-law; (ii) the compound can give pieces of land to daughters
as part of their marriage dowries, in which case, this plot of
land is usually removed from that of the original compound
owners; and (iii) rice land can be acquired on loan from friends
in other compounds who have excess land. The system is thus flexible
enough to supply land, especially rice land, required by the
women of a farming village.