Torgeir Fyhri 1998

The Gambia: 
The Complexity of Modernising the Agricultural Sector in Africa

Chapter 1: Introduction

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CHAPTER 1: Introduction
1.1 The problem
1.2 Hypotheses
1.3 About the study


CHAPTER 1: Introduction
CHAPTER 2: Methodical Considerations
CHAPTER 3: Theoretical Framework
CHAPTER 4: Introducing The Gambian Agricultural Sector
CHAPTER5: The Development of the Agriculture Sector 1983-96
CHAPTER 6: Responses to household Constraints and Farm Risk
CHAPTER 7: Testing of hypotheses and Theoretical Discussion
CHAPTER 8: Concluding Remarks
APPENDIX - Interviews conducted in villages around Farafenni


The Gambia, as African countries in common, is heavily economically dependent on exporting agricultural products. The economy is open and, therefore, vulnerable to economic fluctuations in neighbouring countries and the world as a whole. The Gambia as surrounded by Senegal is probably the country of the world with highest land-border ratio (Klitgaard 1994). The lack of an industrial sector and dependence on one main cash crop for export, groundnut, is problematic since the Gambian economy becomes vulnerable to fluctuations in the world market price on few staples.

Figure 1.1: Map of The Gambia (Trolldalen, 1984)

Since the agricultural sector in many African countries is the most important sector to the economy, policy strategies aiming at strengthens the national economy has commonly been directed towards the agricultural sector. The Gambia is no exception. Since world war two agricultural strategies have been conspicuous (Carney 1983):

1) Increase export incomes through strategies aiming at increase production of cash crops, mainly groundnuts.
2) Increase the self-sufficiency degree of food through increase production of rice in the swamp areas.

The efforts to reach these aims have, however, been changing through time due to changing political and economical environment driven by both internal and external forces to meet the demands of today. The term modernise will in this thesis be designation of this process. Since 1985 when the Economic Recovery Programme (ERP) was implemented to restructure and strengthen the Gambian economy, the efforts to reach the two major aims have been based on the principle of market economy (Jagne 1994, Jabara 1990). This means, as it did in the state of planned economy in the pre-ERP era, efforts aiming at commercialise agricultural production.

From the the farming household perspective, however, policy efforts are only one of many factors influencing action at a farm level. Action at a farm level is affected by a complex of influencing factors in addition to efforts implemented by the agricultural authorities: For the first, the farmers demands capital and food. The demand of food at a national level is increasing due to rapid population growth. Secondly, access to land, labour and farm inputs affect the opportunity to cultivate. Access to land tends to be restricted due to population growth and the ability of the tenure system to cope with this growth. Lack of capital restrict access to farm inputs. Thirdly, vulnerable ecological conditions, such as rainfall variability, makes farming uncertain. All of these conditions, including policy effort change, force the farmers to respond to minimise the uncertainty and risk of their actions.

However, nor the household nor the individuals are necessarily passive respondents to economical structures and environmental conditions isolated. Individual characteristics, choices and initiatives both at a household level and at a individual level are motive power for action. Both the individuals and the household are what we might call active respondents. This thesis will mainly concentrate at the most general responses made at a household level. The rural houshold is rather uniform unit in a rather uniform agricultural sector caracterized by mostly small scale farms (Carney 1993, SNPC 1994). By studying the rural household as a unit rather than individuals within the households generalisations are easier made and development trends become more visible.

The responses of the household result into different types of farm strategies as choice of crops affecting the national production statistics, fallow practise and mechanisation or simply search for off-farm income. As responses are rapid adjustments to external conditions, correlating empirical findings of concrete changes in farm strategies with empirical findings of changing external conditions is the selected strategy for visualising the responses in this thesis. By this, we might demonstrate the concrete results of the modernising strategies. In addition, these findings might give us some indications of the power structure between the economical and social structures, and between the agricultural authorities and the household: To which extent has the individual household the opportunity to secure or develop their own economic and social situation?

1.1 The problem

The main aim of this thesis is to discuss how farmers` perception and risk responses affect their decisionmaking at a farm level and thereby influence the process of accomplishing modernisation of the agricultural sector in an African country, such as The Gambia. Thus, make modernisation a more complex process than expected by macrotheoreticans and agricultural authorities claiming that modernisation can be planned through national policies alone.

More specifically, this thesis attempts to answer the following questions related to the modernising process of The Gambia:

1) What kind of barriers exists for the agricultural authorities to modernise the agricultural sector in The Gambia?
2) Why does a more widely spread commercialisation of the agricultural sector not occur?
3) How do the farmers respond to the efforts of commercialising agricultural production?
4) In which way is modernisation of the agricultural sector affecting the risk for the farmers and how do the farmers' respond to cope with risk?

As shown in the questions above the farmers responses to external conditions both caused by and causing production trends, are the main topic of this thesis. In a historical perspective, the relative importance of the different crops has changed due to such external conditions as agricultural policies, changing prices for the farmer's products and thereby changing farm risk. Therefore, assessing production trends such as alterations in total yields, yields per hectare and cultivated area, is the staring point of the analysis.
The analysis concentrates mainly on crop production as the most important sub-sector within the agricultural sector. The sub-sector can again be divided into a subsistence system and commercial system of production.

The estimates of changes within the crop sub-sector will here be well defined to include respectively groundnut, swamp rice and early millet. Groundnuts are the main export crop and production alterations indicate the changing meaning of cash crops in the national crop sub-sector. Groundnuts is also quantitative the most important crop of the country. It also appears to be the main commercial crop. Swamp rice is the food crop in which the agricultural authorities of the Gambia have directed their efforts in self-sufficiency strategies. Swamp rice is cultivated in the lowland area in opposite to other food crops cultivated in the upland area and competition of land between groundnuts and food crops can be avoided. Early millet is the main upland subsistence cereal. It even appears to be more important than rice in the diet of the farmers (Johm 1996a).

The main causes of these trends, and the way the influencing factors interact, will be evaluated through studies both at a national- and a lower geographical scale.

The analyse covers the period from 1983 to 1996. By following up the studies done by Trolldalen covering the period from 1948 to 1983 (Trolldalen, 1984), this thesis will draw a picture of agricultural evolution in The Gambia over a period of about 50 years.

1.2 Hypotheses

The hypotheses are related to the main aim of the study and the problems following this aim in a more concrete manner. The first set of hypotheses focuses on concrete changes in crop production. The second set involves land and labour availability and the tenure systems. Finally, set III focuses on changes in risk affecting decisionmaking at a farm level, resulting by efforts aiming at commercialisation of the crop sub-sector:

IA Due to the decreasing prices on groundnut, removing of subsidises on fertiliser and increasing prices on food grains in the era of the Economic Recovery Programme, the farmers have turned back to more subsistence agriculture to secure the food availability.

IB Increased demand for food caused by population and urban growth added with less interest in commercial agricultural production causing a stagnation in domestic swamp rice production, has resulted in increased food imports.

IIA The disfunction of the land tenure system to be adjusted to agricultural commercialisation and population growth leads to fixed land scarcity.

IIB A long-term downward rainfall trend the last decades has created a labour bottleneck in the short rainy season.

IIIA Commercialisation of the crop sub-sector leads to increasing farm risk due to higher vulnerability to prices and the cultivation of more vulnerable crops.

IIIB The farmers tend to respond on increasing risk through efforts minimising or spreading the risk.

An important question is whether the development these hypotheses outline, is positive or negative. Answering this question is not a simple task. Due to the aim of national authorities, stated in the ERP, less use of fertiliser and decreasing groundnut production is negative, because earning foreign currency through exporting groundnuts is important for the national economy. On the other hand, removing of subsidies on fertiliser saves the national economy for large expenses.

For the individual farmer, the removing of fertiliser subsidies makes fertiliser too expensive. In addition, decreasing prices on groundnuts prevents the farmers from growing it. Higher prices on food products force the farmers to produce their own food because gaining money from groundnut sale to buy food is less profitable and less economically secure.

The long-term rainfall decline added with the disability of the tenure system to be adjusted to population growth and agricultural commercialisation affects the proportion between land and labour negatively. Shorter growing season stresses the agricultural labour force, and increasing labour input is required. However, population growth in rural areas leads to pressure on land causing uncertain userrights to land of a population surplus. The "landless" tends to migrate to urban areas rather than staying to increase the required labour force. The result might be both local land and labour "scarcity".

Even more complex is the discussion of commercialisation and changing risk of the farming household. A commercialised agricultural sector is easier controlled by the agricultural authorities and gives more secure national income than subsistence oriented one. However, a commercial production includes vulnerable prices on the farmer's products, especially when the national economy is liberalised as in the ERP-era. In addition, a commercial crop sub-sector presupposes risky investments in equipment, labour and land.

With traditional based agricultural methods and varieties of crops adapted to the ecological conditions the average yields might be lower than with modern methods and crop varieties. The yields with traditionally methods and crop varieties, however, tend to be more stable in relation to climatic fluctuations and therefore more secure. Due to increased risk of investments in crop production, sources of income might be found outside. As a result, responses on efforts aiming at modernising the agricultural sector might be increased share of off-farm work, increased horticulture production and sale of livestock instead of expected investments in crop production.

1.3 About the study

This introductory chapter presents the aim of the study in addition to the problem, and the hypothesis related to problem.

Chapter two, Methodical considerations, presents the field survey conducted for this thesis and concerning scientific methods. The focus is mainly on the need for using a multi-method approach to adjust data from various sources.

In chapter three, Theoretical framework, conceptualisation of terms, discussion of the conceptualisation, presenting theories with their usability and limits are the main topics. It is problematic finding theories suitable for this specific study. Especially macrotheories, e.g. development theories, have limited value because they are too general. On the other hand, findings from more concrete case studies from The Gambia might be too specific. Therefore, general macrotheories will be balanced with findings from specific case studies as a theoretical foundation for this thesis. The theories used are mainly collected from human and resource geography.

Chapter four, Introducing the Gambian crop sub-sector, present and discusses the historical, ecological, social, political and economical background of subsistence farming on household level and modernisation strategies aiming at commercialisation at a national level. Different perceptions and aims between the risk responding farmers and the national agricultural authorities skilled in non-African agriculture form a duality, which is a central topic in this thesis.

Chapter five, The development of the agricultural sector 1983-96, is a mainly quantitative analysis of the development of the national crop sub-sector based at a national statistics. A causal model, visualising the causal links between a complex of variables influencing agricultural development in The Gambia is the main methodolgical tool of the analysis

An additional analysis is found in chapter six, Responses to household constraints and farm risk. This chapter contains a more specific discussion of the effects of modernisation efforts at a rural household level, based on analysis of data of a more qualitative kind collected through interviews of farmers. The main question here is: What kind of responses do the farmers come up with due to changing farm risk?

In chapter seven, Testing of hypotheses and theoretical discussion, the theoretical and the historical background will be compared to the findings in chapter five and six through hypotheses testing and problem discussion.

Finaly, chapter eight, Concluding remarks, summarise the findings of this thesis.

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