Torgeir Fyhri 1998

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

Chapter 4: Introducing The Gambian Agricultural Sector


Related items

Pages
The Gambia
The Gambia - Economy
The Gambia - Environment
Economy & Development News 
Environment News 
Economy - Agriculture 

Articles
Economic history of rural Gambia  
Main sectors of The Gambian Economy 
Land Use in The Gambia 
History: Introduction of the Groundnut to The Gambia 

Library 

Contents

CHAPTER 4: Introducing The Gambian Agricultural Sector
4.1 Historical background: The development of an agricultural sector
   4.1.1 Crops
   4.1.2 Overseas trade and groundnut production
4.2 Introducing the physical geography of The Gambia
   4.2.1 Agricultural zones
   4.2.2 Cyclical rainfall fluctuations and farm risk
4.3 Coping strategies towards ecological farming conditions
   4.3.1 Shifting cultivation and intercropping
   4.3.2 The rural household
   4.3.3 The tenure system
   4.3.4 "Scarcity of season"
4.4 The aims and strategies of modernising the agricultural sector
   4.4.1 Population growth: Increasing demand for food
   4.4.2 The agricultural sector's share of GDP
   4.4.3 Agriculture in the rural household economy
   4.4.4 Commercialisation of the agricultural sector
4.5 Modernising efforts in the Pre-ERP era
   4.5.1 Mechanisation
   4.5.2 Institution building
   4.5.3 Increasing degree of self-sufficiency of food
   4.5.4 Increasing cash crops production
4.6 The introduction of the Economic Recovery Programme

OTHER CHAPTERS
Contents

CHAPTER 1: Introduction
CHAPTER 2: Methodical Considerations
CHAPTER 3: Theoretical Framework
CHAPTER 4: Introducing The Gambian Agricultural Sector
CHAPTER 5: 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
REFERENCES
APPENDIX - Interviews conducted in villages around Farafenni


4 INTRODUCING THE GAMBIAN AGRICULTURAL SECTOR 

The Gambian crop agricultural sector is characterised by the duality between the risk minimising, subsistence oriented farmer and the commercial oriented national authorities (Dey 1982). The farmers have due to their relation to the environment and external influence; such as agricultural polices, developed both social and agronomic coping strategies to minimise risk. The agricultural authorities have on their hand, due to the importance of crop production to the national economy, implemented efforts aiming at increased production of both food and cash crops to satisfy today's need of export incomes and an increased self sufficiency degree on food. The common feature of these modernisation strategies has been the aim of commercialisation of the crop sub-sector. The farmer's perceptions and practices are by the national agricultural authorities, seen as obstacles to the modernisation process.

Strong governmental influence and expensive efforts such as subsidies and credits and large-scale irrigation projects distinguished the modernising strategy prior to the implementation of the Economic Recovery Programme (ERP) in 1985. However, the agricultural sector did not become economically self-sustained. Rainfall conditions and an average decline in world market prices on groundnuts were blamed for this failure. The ERP was implemented to make the crop sub-sector more economically self sustained. Contrary to the pre-ERP policies, ERP was based on the principles of market economy. However, the main aim was still increased cash and food crop production through commercialisation.
The main topic of this chapter is presenting and discussing important historical, environmental, social, economical and political features and events in the Gambian agricultural sector to constitute an empirical background for the analyses in chapter 5 and 6.

4.1 Historical background: The development of an agricultural sector

The thought that the development of Sub-Saharan agriculture started after colonisation seems to be a historical fallacy. Most of the crops cultivated, the cultivating techniques and the social system of agriculture were introduced already in pre-colonial time in The Gambia as a result of both external and internal stress (Brooks 1975, Hinderink & Sterkenburg 1987). The slave trade played an important role for early agricultural innovations. The main principle was subsistence farming, except from a small amount of rice production for export. However, the introduction of the groundnuts led gradually to a change towards more commercial production and to the development of an agricultural sector in end of the last century (Weil 1984). The conflict between subsistence and commercial production is founded in the historical development.

4.1.1 Crops

The main crops cultivated in The Gambia are both of indigenous and overseas origin. The principal cereals traditionally cultivated in The Gambia are rice (Orzya glaberrima), sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), millet (Penisetum americanum) and fonio (Digitaria exilis). The Bambara groundnut (Veandzeia subterrana) was another important indigenous crop (Carney 1986).

From the eight through the eighteenth century, many crops of Asian and New world origin as maize and groundnut were introduced and quickly assimilated into local food production systems in West Africa (Carney 1986). The groundnut (Arachis hypogaea), which the colony, the present The Gambia became economic dependent on in the 19th century, was introduced in the area by Portuguese agencies in the sixteenth century (Brooks 1975). Based on linguistic and plant genetic evidence, it is believed that West Africa is a centre of origin of an indigenous rice species (Oryza glaberrima). Arabic references indicate the geographic spread of rice cultivation before the 17th century, which ranged from Senegambian coast and rivers to present-day Mali, Chad, Niger and northern Nigeria (Carney 1986).

4.1.2 Overseas trade and groundnut production

The groundnut trade replaced the slave trade that became prohibited in 1805 (ibid.). In 1828 105 tons of rice were exported from the colony and sold to West Indies and Brazil in addition to millet. This increased to 290 tons in 1830. In 1830 also ten baskets of groundnuts were exported. Five years later, 47 tons of groundnuts were traded, but by 1857 export production had already reached 13 544 tons and was responsible for more than 70% of the colony's trade. The rapid growth was a response to European industrialism (Brooks 1975, Carney 1986). Most of the nuts were bought by British and French traders. Vegetable oils and fats were needed for lubricants, candles and soap in European industry. American traders, the thirdmain importer, bought Gambian peanuts for food consumption (Brooks 1975). The river enabled boats to navigate far upstream were groundnuts could be collected. The present countries Nigeria and Senegal, then colonies, had to wait until the construction of railroads in 1880's to transport large quantities of groundnuts to coastal ports. (Carney 1986).

The reliance on groundnut production increased during the 20th century. Not only were groundnuts taking over as the main crop from rice measured in total yields in The Gambia, the rice cultivation was driven out of the upland area. Total agriculture area increased by shortening the fallow periods and clearing virgin land in the upland area.

The groundnut trade affected the rice production. Within the first decade of groundnut export, the colony passed from rice exporter to a rice importer. Due to high groundnut prices, expanding production and immigration of agricultural workers, seasonal pre-harvest cereal shortages developed during the 1850's. In turn, rice import increased, and in 1869 ten times more was imported than at the beginning of the decade.
This introduced a conflict between cash crops and food crops. Groundnuts became an important source for the colonial authorities and later for the national authorities. Crop production became a national affair, and made farming more complex.

4.2 Introducing the physical geography of The Gambia

The Gambia is a narrow strip of land 25 to 50 km wide on both banks of the River Gambia laying between latitudes 13(N and 14(N exposed to cyclical rainfall variations throughout the year.
The river Gambia is the lifeline of the country, running from the humid Fouta Djalon Mountains throughout The Gambia. The water availability of the river varies cyclical throughout the year due to cyclical rainfall variations. In the dry months, from November to May, when the water availability is least, the ocean intrudes the river to a interface 200 to 250 km upstream, somewhere between Kaur and Kantaur (DWR, 1987). The interface varies between 80 and 120-km inland in the humid months from June to October. These cyclical variations in salt intrusion creates an environment of mangrove forest beneath the river (SWMU/DAS, 1994).

The climatic conditions vary less throughout the country than throughout the year, due to the small physical size of the country (IFAD 1995a). In the northern part of the country the agroclimatic zone is characterised by influences of the Sahelian climate, which means great cyclical variations in rainfall, while the southern part fall into the Guinea zone in south with constant high temperatures and higher humidity (IFAD 1995b, Ridder 1991). The Atlantic Sea influences both of these climates in the areas near the coast.

Figure 4.1: Photo: Densely Guinea wooded vegetation in the western part of The Gambia

Figure 4.2: Photo: Open Sudan savannah in the eastern part of The Gambia

There are just small fluctuations in temperature during the year, 30( C in the dry season and 27( C in the wet season. The rainy season normally extends from the beginning of June to the end of October, but mean rainfall only exceeds evapotranspiration in July, August and September by about 400-500 mm (Ridder 1991, DWR 1993, IFAD 1995a). The lack of precipitation from November to May prevent the farmers from cultivating during this period. The annual rainfall gradient fells from 1200 mm and more in the southern part of the country to 800mm and less in the north (FAO & MoA 1985).

The vegetation of The Gambia is more influenced by soil fertility and texture than climate (Lawson 1990). At the levee, the area influenced by the river, water saturated deposits dominate. The alluvial soils, suitable for irrigated cultivation is fine-textured, comprising more than 80% silt and clay from river deposits (FAO & MoA 1985). The blue-grey fine textured soil is hard to drain. The inland side of the levee mostly is used for swamp rice agriculture, while the riverside of the levee is covered by mangrove forest less affected by human actions (Trolldalen 1984).

Figure 4.3: Agroecological zones: The Gambia (Carney 1993)

The bedrock of the region is dominated by sedimentary rocks, deposited from Cambrian to Jurassic, also covering most of Senegal, known as the Senegal Basin (Grove; 1989, DWR; 1987, LADEP 1994). The upland soils, consist deeply weathered sandstone are mostly ferralitic, found in the western part of the country and ferruginous tropical soils (IFAD 1995a). The ferralitic soil is more suitable for rainfed cultivation of groundnuts and cereals than the ferrugenious (FAO & MoA 1985). Both soils are sandy loam and slightly acid, characterised by low-chemical fertility (CILLS 1996, LADEP 1994). Two types of natural vegetation dominate the upland: Densely Guinea wooded vegetation occurs in the west while opener Sudan savannah occurs in the eastern part of the country (Ridder 1991, Trolldalen 1984). The Sudan savannah vegetation, which is the dominant of most of the upland area, can be described as savannah woodland with shrub and grass understorey (IFAD 1995a). The main ecological basis for the savannah zone is its limitation in water availability and precipitation variability in a warm climate. While precipitation is expected in longer or shorter rainy seasons, the possibility of drought is ever present due to the high variety in annual precipitation. This factor is the most central limitation for vegetation and fauna, and separates this zone from the adjacent desert and tropical forest zones. Cultivation or bush fires modify most of the savannah woodland.

4.2.1 Agricultural zones

In a small country as The Gambia with small differences in topography and climatic conditions the agricultural zones are foremost related to different types of soils and land categories. According to Edberg (1983), the country can be divided into three main land categories: The savannah upland, the banto-faros, in which the swamp rice are produced and the mangroves. The different land categories are recognised in figure 4.3

As the mangroves not are used for agricultural purposes, only the savannah upland and the Banto-Faros will be further discussed. The savannah upland and the banto faros will further be referred to as the uplands and the lowlands respectively.

According to IFAD (1995b), the upland is the main land use category of The Gambia. The cultivated upland constitutes for 26% of total land area. In addition, 9.8% of total land area, is fallow land, which is an integral part of the upland system.

Upland soils are deficient in most major nutrients especially nitrogen and phosphorus (FAO & MoA 1985). Therefore, chemical fertiliser has become necessary in the upland cultivation to sustain satisfactory yields. Mostly cereals and groundnuts are cultivated here and the soils are suitable for use of animal traction, as the soil texture is coarser than for the lowland soils.

Figure 4.4: Photo: Sesamy harvest in the upland area

Figure 4.5: Photo: Rice field in the Banto-Faro area

The lowland alluvial and colluvial soils are more fertile than the upland soils, but too heavy for cultivation by animal traction. The lowland is mainly used for swamp rice production, but shortage of irrigated water has limited cultivated area in the lowlands, which constitute for 10 % of total land area of The Gambia (IFAD 1995b, FAO & MoA 1985). Salt intrusions are an additional problem of lowland cultivation. The soils have normally a high salt content (Trolldalen 1981). However, in dry years the interface of salt waters moving further upstream during the dry season deposing salt in the swamp rice fields. The run-off of fresh water replacing salt water of the river during the wet season has declined due to a downward rainfall trend during the century (SWMU/DAS 1992)

4.2.2 Cyclical rainfall fluctuations and farm risk

The climatic influence on farming is mostly felt through cycles of precipitation (USAID & OMVG 1985). Three trends related to cyclical rainfall fluctuations have throughout the century increased the uncertainty at a farm level.

Firstly, a long-term downward trend has occurred during the century. Normally between 1000-1200 mm, precipitation falls during the wet season. However during the seventies and eighties, the rainfall was reduced to between 600 and 800 mm (Itty 1992).

Secondly, large year to year fluctuations create uncertain conditions in farming. Making predictions of next year rainfall are almost an impossible task due to the rainfall variability. According to Lipton (1968), the less mean rainfall is, the greater the coefficient of variability is. The long-term downward rainfall trend visible in figure 4.4, has in turn, increased this coefficient.

Thirdly, an alarming decrease in August rainfall when the crops are in the critical stage of flowering and grainfilling is according to FAO & MoA (1985), another problem related to the long-term downward rainfall trend.

4.3 Coping strategies towards ecological farming conditions

As the two former sub-chapters have showed, both historical events such as the introduction of groundnut export and changing ecological and climatically factors have influenced farming in The Gambia. The farmers have in turn adapted their farm strategies due to the changing circumstances.

"Agricultural systems were not stagnant but altered over time in response to changing circumstances, among which the increase of population was particularly important. Innovations comprised the incorporation of new crops, crop rotation practices and intercropping..." (Hinderink & Sterkenburg pp. 23-4, 1987)

The basic meaning of these strategies are coping with constraints as rainfall decline, declining natural fertility of the soil and market influences such as price declines. In addition, the social organisation within the household and the village is developed to cope with social and demographic constraints as rapid population growth and access to land. As we see the constraints are based in natural, historical, political, economical and social factors mixed together. An example very much to the point is the constraint, drought. According to Mortimore (1989), drought as an important obstacle for farming in The Gambia is necessarily perceived in terms of the needs of given community. As discussed above, rainfall declines affects natural vegetation. So long as the vegetation not is "needed" by a given community, a rainfall decline, that affects the vegetation do not affects the needs of the given community. Therefore, the rainfall decline is not a drought. However, according to the definitions of agriculture in chapter 3, crops are cultivated to meet a demand or a need. If a rainfall decline affect the crops so the production falls below a minimum, a drought has come into being. The constraint of rainfall decline becomes therefore both a natural, social and economical factor increasing the risk of farming. The farming household does respond on this risk through behaviour that minimises the probability of maximum loss in agricultural crops (Carney 1986, Taal 1989). In other words:

"West African ecologies are complex and peasant farmer practices have proven effective in coping with this complexity." (Richards pp. 2 1983)

4.3.1 Shifting cultivation and intercropping

For centuries cultivators have responded to cyclical rainfall variations by developing agronomic practices that enhance moisture retention for cropping. A variety of household strategies, technical and social, aim at reducing risk in agriculture: The African farmer developed important agricultural strategies that did not physically destroy the soil: Shifting cultivation, crop rotation and intercropping.

Leaving an area to regenerate (fallow) after a few years cultivation then rotate to another area is the main principle of shifting cultivation (Hyden, 1988). Goddall (1987) distinguishes between the traditional meaning of the term connected to nomadic tribes, land rotation practised by farmers in permanent villages, and shifting cultivation associated to cash crops were land is abandoned when the yield falls under a certain minimum. An area is cleared by slash and burn, planted by the aid of a digging stick with a mixture of crops. Ash from the burned vegetation was the only nutrient supply. After a few years cultivation the soil became too unfertile for use. The area was then abandoned and natural vegetation, either bush or forest recolonised the land (Grigg 1993). An additional strategy to restore the nutrients of the soil, is fertilising with manure from livestock

Leaving the land fallow for around twenty years after four years cropping was common in The Gambia upland area (Weil, 1986). In addition to using fallow, shifting cultivation also includes crop rotation which optimises the proportion between the nutrient content of the soil and nutrient demand of the crop. Producing findo or groundnuts the first year, late millet the second year, early millet or sorghum the third year and again groundnuts the fourth year, on one plot, is an example of this crop rotation practices (Trolldalen 1981).

Intercropping is very closely related to the crop rotation practise. The principle is planting different crops with different properties as e.g. varying nutrient and water demands together on the same plot, to secure organic restoration of the soil (Hyden, 1988). Intercropping of groundnuts and millet/maize, early millet with maize/late millet and sorghum with late millet are frequent in the upland area of The Gambia (Willis 1996). Using baobab trees to protect the soils from overheating is also a sort of intercropping. Under a forest cover in the tropics the temperature of the soil surface rarely exceeds 26( C, but it can reach 42( C when the vegetation is removed (Grigg 1993). According to Hyden (1988), intercropping has been a successful device in minimising risk and maximising profit under low levels of technology and resource input.

However, the practise of shifting cultivation and fallowing was largely possible due to low population density and the relative abundance of forestland. At the present, these practises have become more or less abandoned due to population growth and land pressure (Bojang 1996, FAO & MoA 1985). Trolldalen (1984) claims that shortening of fallow periods is a result of increasing use of land for commercial groundnut production. According to Maalenku (1993a & 1993b) these practises are obstacles for effective farming, because they are time consuming and the plots become to small for effective mechanisation.

4.3.2 The rural household

In sub-chapter 3.1, there was a discussion over risk avoydances in African rural households. According to Lipton (1968), risk aversion characterises both consumption and production in the rural household. In the National Agricultural Sample Surveys, the household is operationalised as the dabada (DOP 1996). However, since the dabada is the male working unit the operationalisation is too simple. In practice, the household is as much a consumption unit as a production unit. SNPC (1994) defines a household as, "A person or group of persons who live together in the same house or compound, share the same house-keeping arrangements and catered for as one unit". The size of the housholds is rather uniform throughtout the country by averagely 8.4 persons per household in 1983 (ibid.). Households in urban areas are slightly smaller than in rural areas.

The household secures income through optimising a "package" of different income sources by producing different crops, using different farm techniques, and earning off-farm revenues and choice of consumption. The aim is optimising social sustainability with well-defined social relations to minimise risks (Mwangi-wa-Githinji & Perrings 1993). These community based relations are necessarily more important than individual demands. The social organisation of the household, governing resource use, generally has been adjusting to labour, rather than land shortages (Carney 1988). The women divide their time between swamp rice and groundnut production. Men search for alternatives such as credit or off-farm work to gain money for buying food.

4.3.3 The tenure system

Tenure will here be defined as the rights which individuals and communities have in land and other natural resources, as according to Freudenberger (1993a). The hereditary rural land tenure system in The Gambia can be characterised as a complex communal system with both individual use and ownership rights (Carney 1988).

Before a more detailed discussion of the tenure system we have to put some attention at the organisation of production: The compound is the residential unit. The compound includes a man and his wives, his sons and their wives and families as well as elderly widowed mothers and mothers-in-law. All members in the residential unit must take part in food production. Production and consumption, however, may be organised in different sub-units within the compound: The consumption unit is the sinkiro that embraces all who take meals together. Male agricultural production is organised in dabadas. The dabada includes males from one or more sinkiros (Carney 1988, Dey 1981).

Work on crop production is and has traditionally been sharply divided between men and women. But the reliance on groundnuts as a cash crop by the end of the nineteenth century also led to a gender based specialisation of agricultural space. Men were cultivating groundnuts for sale and millet foodgrain for domestic use in the upland area. Women were mainly cultivating rice in the lowland area (Carney 1993, Haswell 1991).

Customary, the land claimed and used in common is considered maruo. The individually claimed land is known as kamanyango (Carney 1988). Land claims are established through clearing of uncultivated, unclaimed land. When the farm unit's members jointly do the clearing, the land becomes a part of the compound's maruo fields. When individuals, of both sexes, do the clearing the land becomes kamanyango. This type of kamanyango fields is primarily located in the rice cultivating zones. However, there is a more widespread meaning of the kamanyango which refers to the rights individuals have to cultivate a personal field as a return for labour put into the household field (Dey 1981, Carney 1986). The personal fields in which he or she has the usufruct are located in the maruo area. In contrast to the cereals cultivated in the maruao field, the crops from the kamanyango field can be sold. Among the Mandinkas, which are primarily rice cultivators, the women grow rice as a personal cash crop or for domestic consumption in the kamanyango field. Men and women of the Fula, and Wollof produce primarily groundnuts for sale in their individual fields (Carney 1988, Haswell 1991).

The intention of the tenure system is to organise production in a way, that all households and members of a household have access to both food and an individual plot. However, land access is differentiated according to whether a household is a member of a founding or immigrant lineage. Both communal and individual land is heritable (MANR 1995a) Therefore; a founding family has more secure ownership rights than immigrant linkages (Carney 1988). This constraint has traditionally been solved through social mechanisms such as land borrowing. Immigrant linkages borrow land for varying periods and payment for such arrangements are very rarely required (IFAD 1992). In addition have men more secure ownership rights than women, due the heritage system (Willis 1996). This constraint has traditionally been solved through the social organisation of labour within the household.

Today, however, more unsecured ownership rights of women have restricted their access to capital and credit, as credits are given on basis of landownership. In addition, pressure on farm land due to population and urban growth, has led to reclaiming of borrowed land and more insecure land use rights of immigrant linkages (IFAD 1992, Willis 1996). According to Maalenku (1995a & 1995b), this development is a result of the disability of the tenure system to be adjusted to today's need of organisation of production, as the tenure system is adapted to a condition of less land pressure.

4.3.4 "Scarcity of season"

The Gambian farming system is characterised by the primary features that cropping patterns have evolved out of a response to a short, five-month growing season (Carney 1988). The rainy season is short and labour in the busy season soon after the rains break tend to be more productive than labour at other seasons. Manual tools and animal traction are mostly used to prepare the soil for sowing and planting, which is carried out immediately after the first rain has fallen (Alimi 1990). Draft animals used for ploughing and tillaging the fields are then weak following a dry season (FAO & MoA 1985). Then, there is a large demand for labour for weeding the fields. However, the busiest time for the Gambian farmers, especially the men are the groundnut harvest season. In October the groundnuts are lifted, wind rowed and stacked on the haulm in the field. Threshing takes place in December/January when the trade season opens. The undecorticated (in shell) groundnuts are stored in bags supplied by the co-operatives, and transported, mainly by donkey cart, from the field to the nearest co-operative buying centre, secco (Haswell 1991). Although an important crop as early millet is harvested a month earlier, in the beginning of October, is there lack of labour during the groundnut harvest season, which occurs at the same time as both swap rice and upland rice harvest.

As all these farming operations have to be done within a relative short period, labour bottlenecks occurs (IFAD 1995b). Scarcity of season is a term introduced by Haswell (1991) to describe this state. Scarcity of season was an overriding factor in interpreting use of labour and returns of labour.

As a response, Gambian farmers have, therefore, hired agricultural workers from the neighbouring countries at this time. This system is relatively old. In the 19th century, in the beginning of the groundnut era, slaves were working in the groundnut fields. Two decades later, migrant workers started replacing the slaves in the groundnut fields. Compared to the use of slaves, the introduction of migrant workers or strange farmers had advantages. Strange farmers were available for a larger amount of peasant producers. Groundnut production expanded from the slave owning elite to other households. Additionally, the strange farmer system was more flexible in relation to the seasonal food scarcity (Carney 1986). This scarcity normally occurs in August and September (Johm 1996a). The strange farmers leave after the five-month's agricultural season when the host farmers' food obligations ends (Carney 1986).

It can be discussed, whether there is a scarcity of labour or "season". The point is, however, that farmers only can benefit from increased access of labour in the already mentioned period. Population growth will involve increasing demand for food in the dry season and cannot solve the problem (Taal 1989). More land could be utilised in the lowland area for rice production, but the same problem comes into being: This would require more labour in the short rainy season.

4.4 The aims and strategies of modernising the agricultural sector

This sub-chapter will focus on the gap in aims and strategies of crop production between the national agricultural authorities and the farming household. Crop production has a different meaning for the agricultural authorities than for the farming household. While crop production at a farm level is influenced by risk minimising strategies, as discussed above, crop production at a national level is an important source for export income. The risk coping strategies at a farm level are seen as obstacles for both effective cash and food crop production, which are required to meet present days needs at a national level. Increased food production has become important due to increased demand from a rapidly growing population added with urbanisation. Increased cash crop production is important to gain foreign exchange through export. A major problem is how to balance cash crop production with food production. The Gambian economy is dependent on export of the staple groundnut. The national self-sufficiency degree has decreased to critically levels since World War 2 until the present days (Trolldalen 1984, NPC 1991 and Aubee 1996). Therefore modernising strategies of the agricultural authorities have to cope with this problem. As we shall see, there is one common demiantor of these strategies: Limit the importance of subsistence production through promotion of commercial production on farm level.

4.4.1 Population growth: increasing demand for food

Rapid population growth, which occurred in The Gambia the last century, creates logically an ever-increasing demand for food.

Figure 4.8: Popualtion of the Gambia 1901-93. (Source: SNPC, 1994)

The Gambia has a very high fertility rate. The crude birth rate stands at around 50 births per 1000 in the censuses of 1973, 1983, and 1990 (respectively 49.5, 50.5 and 48.5). The total fertility rate of both 1973 and 1983 was 6.4. Child mortality has decreased which in turn has contributed to a declining crude death rate between 1973 and 1990 (29.5 in 1973, 21.2 in 1983 and 21 in 1990) (SNPC 1994). The result has been a rapid increasing population.

The population of The Gambia currently stands at 1,025,867, growing at a rate of about 4,1% per annum. In 1983 the total population of The Gambia was 687, 817. Between 1983 and 1993 the national population density therefore doubled from 47 to 96 per square km for the whole country (SNPC 1994). Another outstanding trend is the population growth in urban areas contrary to rural areas. Table 4.1 shows that population in urban areas has grown significantly more than in rural areas. The growth is mainly a result of migration to the Kanifing area. The population density here was 163 in 1963 compared to 3021 in 1993 (CILLS 1996). The expectations of e.g. well paid work in the metropolitan area of Kanifing allures especially young men from rural areas (Jagne 1994). The result is emigration to urban areas and less recruitment to farm works.

  1963 1973 1983 1993
Urban 2237 3651 4499 6422
Rural 129 186 235 286

Table 4.1 Population density in persons per square km 1963-93 (Urban area includes Banjul, Kanifing, Brikama). (Source: CILLS 1996)

  1963 1973 1983 1993
Urban 28390 112. 689 211. 779 385. 400
Rural 312. 647 380. 810 476. 038 652. 745


Table 4.2 Urban and rural population 1963-93 (Source: CSD 1989, DOP 1995a)


4.4.2 The agricultural sector's share of GDP

Groundnut is the main export source and important to gain foreign currency in The Gambia. High prices offered for groundnut and easy access to cheap import rice favoured groundnut production since colonial years. This in turn led to reliance on imports and food aid and undermined the country's derive towards self-sufficiency in food (FERAP 1996).

However, becoming self sufficient on food is not the only scope of the agricultural sector in The Gambia. Even if the agricultural sector of The Gambia is mainly subsistence oriented, it is of important value for the national economy. It is, however problematic to account the exact share of agriculture to GDP. There are large variations within the data and the different ways of accounting the share. Jabara (1990) operates with a share of the GDP of 34.6 % in 1974/75 and 34.1 in 1988/89. These numbers include livestock, fisheries, and forestry. If we subtract these sub-sectors and only account crop production, including subsistence farming, there has been a decrease from 28.4% in 1974/75 to 22.3 in 1988/89. Growth in the livestock and fishery sub-sectors has kept the share of GDP steady during this era. Figure 5.2 (GDP 1975-91) scope a similar development (DeCosse 1992). Total GDP per Capita has remained stable (constant 1979/80 prices) from 1974/75 to 1988/89 (respectively 706.8 and 712.7 dalasi) (Jabara 1990).

Figure 4.9: Selected components of gross domestic product (GDP) 1975-91 (Source: DeCosse 1992)

The conclusion is obvious. Agriculture and especially crop production is important to Gambian economy. However, the importance of this sub sector is declining. The Gambia's economic dependence on export of the staple groundnut has created problems related to both market and climatic vulnerability. Lower world market prices and variations in climatic conditions have made the export income more insecure (DeCosse 1992).

4.4.3 Agriculture in the rural household economy

There is a disparity between the share of agriculture to the national income and household income. About two thirds of the population lives in rural areas. Most of the rural population is engaged in the agricultural sector. The 1983 census calculated the agricultural sector to absorb 73.6% of the total labour force (Ahmed et al. 1992). However, Gambian agriculture is labour intensive and the output per worker is low.

  1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994
Total agric. pop. 615 638 663 691 719 748 777 805 833 861
Total agric. workf. 290 300 311 323 336 349 362 374 386 397
total population 745 776 809 846 885 923 962 1002 1042 1081

Table 4.3 Total population, total agricultural population and total agricultural workforce (thousands) 1985-94. (Source: FAO 1995)

  1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994
Total agric. pop. 82.5 82.2 82.1 81.7 81.2 81.0 81.0 80.3 79.9 79.6
Total agric. workf. 47.2 46.9 46.8 46.8 46.8 46.8 46.7 46.5 46.3 46.0

Table 4.4 Total agricultural population (A) and total agricultural workforce (B) (in percent of total population) 1985-94

Low productivity and variability in agricultural income has resulted in large disparity between rural and urban income. Poverty in the Gambia is most noticeable in rural areas (Ahmed et al. 1992). Rural household income was estimated in 1974 to be only 26% of average income in urban areas (including the value of agricultural subsistence production). The World Bank estimated in 1981 rural income to be 45% of urban income. An IFPRI survey from 1984-87 calculated MacCarthy Island groundnut sale to constitute 80% of cash income earned by farmers, while off-farm revenues constituted for the remaining 20% (Jabara 1990). These off-farm revenues are a more important source for income in a rural household than the mentioned 20% indicate. Off-farm revenues act as risk spreading for the rural household economy either if the harvest fail due to lack of rain or the farm gate prices decrease.

According to an UNICEF survey from 1989 of rural incomes and occupation, rural households whose head was classified as a farmer included about two-thirds of the sample and the lowest incomes. The self-employed informal sector was the secondmost occupation. 19% of the heads of the rural households had their main occupation in this sector, while the remaining 13% had other job categories as main occupation. There is a question, however, whether the primary occupation is the main source for income (Ahmed et al. 1992).

There might exist elements of uncertainty to the data presented above. Measuring rural and agricultural economy at a farm level is not an easy task due to subsistence production and informal markets. In addition, average income measured in urban areas does not account the actual social disparity within these areas. A small elite of businessmen and enterprise owners lift the urban average income, while the majority of the urban population has a low income. Members of rural households seem to migrate to urban areas or earning income outside farming due to the measured disparity between rural and urban economy and the uncertainty of relying on farm income alone (Jagne 1994).

4.4.4 Commercialisation of the agricultural sector

African agricultural officers are, according to Hyden (1988), trained by European agriculturists. This has in turn influenced agricultural policies since independence. The agricultural officers are often more familiar with varieties and techniques developed in Asia and Europe than the indigenous varieties and methods of cultivation. The result has been adoption of both strategies and efforts aiming at commercial production that have succeeded both in Asia and Europe. Tax policies, credit policies and mechanisation experiments have been implemented to keep crop production monetarised since early colonial days. The farmers then have to produce and sell groundnuts to gain cash to pay the taxes and the credits. Monoculture should, due to more efficiency, replace intercropping and shifting cultivation (ibid.). Monoculture groundnut production is, however, not compatible with the subsistence farming system developed, due to climatic conditions, to cope with risk in agriculture. The problem then is how to replace the nutrients without restoring the area through fallowing. Unlike crops like millet, groundnuts do not benefit from manuring (Posner and Jallow 1987). Therefore, the farmers must use chemical fertiliser on their groundnut plots to gain satisfying yields. Chemical fertiliser, however, is and has been, rather expensive for the farmers even when it was subsidised. The groundnuts are also sensitive to drought, especially six to eighth weeks after sowing in the time of vigorous flowering (Haswell 1991). There is no irrigation system for groundnuts in whole The Gambia. Producing groundnuts is therefore a risky business, different from the traditionally risk minimising agriculture.

However, due to the importance of crop production to the national economy the farmer's opinion towards risk minimising has been set aside. Commercial production is easier to measure and control than subsistence production. The paradox is, however, that commercialisation has not been a clearly articulated aim by the national authorities in agricultural plans. The objective is more or less sheltered. In a book made for training of children in agriculture at the junior secondary level at Gambian schools, subsistence farming is stated as unfavourable for both the farmers and the country:

"Agricultural development in the Gambia has come a long way from subsistence to cash crop farming. However, most rural farmers do not know of the new developments taking place in agriculture aimed at increasing the production of food." (MoA 1993 pp. 1).

The quotation emphasises a very interesting point of view. According to MoA, Ministry of Agriculture, the farmers do not know their own best, rely more on commercial production. The farmers do not tend to respond fully on the modernising efforts aiming at commercialisation. Therefore, additional efforts preventing the farmers from subsistence production were implemented. An example very much to the point is collected from a study in village Geniri in the Middle River area of The Gambia conducted by Margaret Haswell (1991). An area were used for mechanisation experiments that later failed. However:

"It had been foreseen that should land supplied for mechanisation experiments be returned to Geniri farmers, modern methods of production with their highly capitalisation and potentially higher returns would stop, and local methods with their negligible capitalisation and known economic returns would take over." (Ibid. pp. 147))

Scientists in this field as Braun (1989), Hinderink and Sterkenburg (1987), Kargbo (1983), Kinteh (1988), Webb (1989) Boserup (1965, 1981) and USAID (1992) share in many ways the viewpoint stated above. They claim that commercialisation of the agricultural sector is a necessary step towards modernisation of the crop sub-sector both in The Gambia and more general, in Africa. Food production, and especially rice production, has been the focus of the mentioned studies. Due to increased urbanisation large share of people cannot produce food for daily consumes. Subsistence production does not meet the national food demand and import of rice becomes necessary. Authors as Hyden (1988), see the African countries economically dependency on exporting staples to the developed world as treat to the countries derives against self-sufficiency. He argues that African countries import food products that could be grown more cheaply by local farmers.

Even farmers are relying on imported food. According to a study of poverty in the Gambia in 1992 (Ahmed et al. 1992), 75% of the rural population experience a food deficit for at least 2 months of the year (July to August). Thus, even subsistence farmers' access to food is dependent on real income (Gambia 1996). A commercialisation will increase their income and might in turn ease the repayment of credits (Webb, 1989).

4.5 Modernising efforts in the Pre-ERP era

Governmental efforts and interference has influenced farming since colonial days in The Gambia. The concrete aim of these efforts has been increasing the self-sufficiency degree of food and increasing production of cash crops. However, prior to mid-seventies, no clearly articulated agricultural policy could be perceived (Akinboade 1994). Instead, consoling the vague policies initiated in the colonial period before 1965 that aimed to secure incomes from groundnut export in addition to implement large-scale rice projects, were the only policy efforts in The Gambia.

After independence, the agricultural institutions directed their efforts towards the building and strengthening of agricultural institutions that could serve and control the farmers and their production. The producer prices should be kept at a low level and the inputs were highly subsidised as in colonial time. With the first five-year development plan (1975/76-1979/80) a more articulated agricultural policy became formed. Both the first five year development plan and the second (1981/82-1985/86) claimed the need to improve the nutritional standards in the rural areas, the limitation of bulk cereal imports, increased cash crop production and the diversification of the agricultural base (Akinboade 1994). Strong governmental interference was the common deminator of both five-year plans. However, expensive efforts as subsidies on farming implements added with large investments in agricultural investments financed with foreign loans made the country soon indebted. As a result, the Economic Recovery Programme (ERP), was implemented to revitalise the economy in 1985.

4.5.1 Mechanisation

Promotion of mechanical farming equipment was seen as a way to cope with seasonal labour shortage and the inefficiency of the manual cultivation techniques. More land was available than could be managed with traditional techniques (Haswell 1991). The manual cultivation techniques, where axe and knife were used to clear new land, the hoe for preparing the soil and a stick of wood or iron, for rice planting, was too labour intensive (Trolldalen 1984). The low level of mechanisation seemed to strengthen the scarcity of season. Therefore, the agricultural authorities aimed to improve the technological level.

Figure 4.10: Photo: "Hand hoing"

Figure 4.11: Photo: Swamp rice field

Figure 4.12: Photo: "Sin-hoe-package outright", the groundnut lifter

Figure 4.13: Photo "Super eco seeder"

Mechanisation experiments in 1948 and 1949 showed that use of tractor was extremely costly and uneconomic in the interior of The Gambia due to lack of roads, tractor agents and service. In 1955, the Gambian Department of Agriculture introduced their "oxination programme". A farmer using oxdrawn equipment could cultivate four or five times the area of a hand-cultivated farm (Haswell 1991). In addition, ox ploughing removes more weeds, which could increase crop yields (Grigg 1993). Manufacture and standardisation of equipment for draft animals were also given priority, especially in the second five-year plan (MEPID 1981).

Using ox's as draft animals had, however, several limitations. The main contribution of animal power was to the cash crop, groundnut, grown on the sandy soils of the plateau by men. The lowland soils, were the rice is grown, were too fine textured to use draught animals. In addition, women had no access to oxen in the upland area. When hand-hoe agriculture gave way to ox ploughing on the upland area, the groundnuts for cash became favoured and foodgrain (millet and sorghum) production decreased. There was a shift of food production from the upland area to the fertile floodplain swamps, with rice production dependent on female manual labour (Jabara 1990, Haswell 1991). Another problem was that oxploughing even could increase the scarcity of season. The farmers could cultivate more land with oxen, but there was no improvement of the harvest techniques (Grigg 1993). By cultivating more land for groundnuts even more labour was demanded in the busy harvesting season. A third problem was that keeping oxen for draft use required a large amount of fodder, particularly in the period before the beginning of the rainy season, when fodder is scarce. Competition for water between man and livestock led in turn to more reliance on donkeys and horses in the 1980s (Haswell 1991).

4.5.2 Institution building

Several technical divisions under The Department of Agriculture expanded during the 1970s. This resulted in creation of two ministries for agricultural sector policy formulation and implementation in 1981: The Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of Water Resources and Environment. A restructured Gambian Oil-Seed Marketing Board became the Gambian Produce Marketing Board (GPMB) in 1973. GPMB had monopoly in importing agricultural inputs as fertiliser, and export marketing of groundnuts. The main obligation of the GPMB was to regulate and control marketing and export from and import into the Gambia of agricultural products and equipment (Woodward et al. 1988, Akinboade 1994). The Gambian Co-operative Union (GCU), the former Co-operative Movement, was formed in 1970 for domestic marketing of the members products and distribution of inputs. GCU offered highly subsidised credit to members for buying these inputs including fertiliser, seeds and mechanic equipment (Akinboade 1994, Johm 1988b).

Another important institution is the Agricultural Extension Service (AES), which is the "field service" of the Ministry of Agriculture. The AES provides education; information and research to the farmers, based on their own felt needs. To improve farming methods the AES tries out improvements of e.g., cropping patterns, timely planting, fertiliser use and irrigation and drainage facilities on experimental farms. A Village Extension Worker promotes the findings at the experimental farms and advises the farmers through direct contact. A contact farmer in each village catered by the Village Extension Worker, tries out the ideas and practises prescribed by the Village Extension Worker on his plots (Samba Bah, Village Extension Worker Upper Baddibu district, North Bank Division, CFTFR 1986, Maaleku 1993b). AES was given much priority in both five years plans, due to the benefits of a direct contact between the agricultural authorities and the farmers (MEPID 1981).

The building of the agricultural institutions, involving large public investments indicates the significance of the agricultural sector to the national economy in The Gambia.

4.5.3 Increasing the degree of self-sufficiency of food

Increasing utilisation of upland area for groundnut production, declining food production and increasing import of rice were claimed as an obstacle to the national self-sufficiency degree already in the 1930s (Richards 1983). As shown in table 4.5, groundnuts as the main export goods show a decreasing trend while food imports are increasing. In addition, population growth and urbanisation lead to an increased demand for food on national level (MEPID 1981, Trolldalen 1983).

  1978/79 1988/89
Export of groundnut products 90.5 % of total export goods 72.8 % of total export goods
Imports of food and live animals 22.1 % of total import goods 31.0 % of total import goods

Table 4.5 Export of groundnut products and import of food products 1978/79 and 1988/89. 
(Source: Jabara 1990)

Articulated self-sufficiency strategies were developed in the post-independence era to improve and increase the national food production. According to Kinteh (1988), the following aims have been the common features of these strategies:
(i) Reducing bulk imports of rice, which have assumed significance in recent years.
(ii) Improving food security through the increase and stabilisation of rice production.
(iii) Achieving a high degree of self-sufficiency through the expansion of irrigation and the introduction of improved technology in swamp rice cultivation.
(iv) Increasing farm incomes, of woman in particular, through enhanced productivity.

One concrete result of these strategies was that the Gambia Produce Marketing Board (GPMB) received portfolios to assume monopoly control over the rice market, both domestic and imported. The former Gambia Oilseed Marketing Board was concentrating merely on groundnut trade and marketing. Illustratively, this institutional restructuring, mark a changed priority, from merely cash crop production towards self-sufficiency of food at a national scale.

Introducing irrigated rice production in the swamp lowlands on the levee of the river has been the most explicit strategy in role to increase food production and by this, solving to the self-sufficiency problem in The Gambia (Kinteh 1988).

Generally, these projects have been developed with large amounts of foreign capital, and with ideals from the Green revolution in the eastern-Asia (Kargbo 1983, Stokke 1988). The implementation of agricultural techniques from temperate tracts in eastern Asia has been successful, but the science and technology has not been adaptable to West-African conditions, due to different ecological regimes (Richards 1983). An example very much to the point was the World Bank's Agricultural Development project. The project followed the Taiwan Mission Project that promoted double cropping in Cha Kunda at the south bank. The Taiwanese approach was simply copied with the use of large diesel engines for water pumping. Due to high water loss and lack of stable fuel supply the project failed (Webb 1991).

Another more studied and discussed example is The Gambia Rice Farm in the Jahally Pacharr area initiated in 1951 by the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC). The project included 2000 hectares with anti-flood dikes. The area productivity was high and resulted in a 32 percent improvement in national self-sufficiency. However, the scheme failed to establish a sustainable irrigation system and had to rely on precipitation. The scheme was terminated in 1956 on account on low economic returns and the area was left to traditional swamp rice production (Kinteh 1988). New large rice projects have since been implemented in the Jahally-Pacharr area without any success (Stokke 1988).

According to Kargbo (1983), who compared input investments of capital and labour with incomes of sale, commercial rice production, in The Gambia, were not competitive compared to other rice producing countries:

"In the cultivation of rice, The Gambia has a comparative disadvantage as is reflected in the negative economic returns." (Kargbo pp. 177, 1983)

In her analysis, all different types of rice production came out with negative economic returns, especially irrigated rice. However, the farmers do not commonly count the economic returns, but produce rice for domestic use instead of buying imported rice, in which the lack capital to buy. Contrary to the agricultural planners' expectations, increasing rice production so far has seemingly not led to commercialisation of rice production. The farmers have, however, used the new technology to induce their household food security (Webb 1989).

4.5.4 Increasing cash crops production

The aim of commercialisation is more visible in governmental efforts aiming at increased cash crop production than in the self-sufficiency strategies.

Already in 1895, the yard tax was introduced to make the farmers dependent on cash incomes. The farmers were then forced to produce agricultural products with high market value as groundnuts as the tax had to be paid in cash (Carney 1986, 1993).

Making the farmers dependent on credits was another effort keeping the farming sector monetarised. Agricultural institutions were providing credits to farmers for buying food at times of seasonal food shortage, technical equipment and fertiliser (Haswell 1991, Carney 1986). There are cereal shortages from the end of September until the main rice harvest at the end of December. Loan repayments are made when the groundnut harvest is sold in the following January. The producer price of groundnuts each year is therefore of primary concern to the farmers (Haswell 1991).

However, poor groundnut harvests added with lower groundnut prices reduced farm incomes during the years of the first five-year plan, and caused repayment problems for the farmers. GCU, the most important credit instance, was on their hand, in a weak financial condition due to the farmer's insolvency. Once more, institutional reforms were made to solve problems related to failed agricultural policies: The Agricultural Development Bank was established to provide loans to farmers and relive GCU (MEPID 1981).

Promotion of fertiliser through subsidies was another effort implemented to increase production of crops, and especially groundnuts. The Rural Development Project, a project implemented during the first five-years plan period, was an active attempt to increase production of both cash crops and food crops and to improve rural infrastructure. Increasing fertiliser use was given priority. A massive promotion of fertiliser led to the doubling of its use during the plan period, but without the expected increase in production. According to the viewpoint of the national authorities, varied rainfall, and reliance on traditional agricultural methods in the agricultural sector prevented the planned increase in production. However, private traders bought fertiliser in The Gambia and sold it especially to Senegal where the prices were far higher. As a result fertiliser consumed as a proportion of fertiliser sold varied between 28% and 37% (Akinboade 1994). The main solutions of these constraints were to make agricultural extension services and agricultural credit support services more efficient and promote a further increase in fertiliser use. (MEPID 1981).

An articulated pricing policy was introduced through the second plan. To make commercial production more attractive for the farmers, the producer prices of both cash and food crops should be raised through fixing. In addition, buying, transport and processing costs of farm products should be reduced through subsidies. The aim was that subsidies on fertiliser and rice could be gradually reduced as producer prices were increased. The thought was that raising of producer prices would be a help coping with the unsatisfying credit situation (ibid.). However, world market prices on groundnuts declined further during the early 80s (Jabara 1990, DeCosse 1992)

4. 6 The introduction of the Economic Recovery Programme

The pre-ERP polices were characterised by large public investments in basic economic and social infrastructure (transport and communications, schools and agricultural extension services). 40% of the investments were put into new publicly owned enterprises which aims were creating new industries. The number of parastatal doubled between 1975 and 1981. GPMB surpluses were used to these non-agricultural investments due to the demand for finances. The investments were, however, financed 70 to 75% with foreign loans and grants (Jabara 1990).

The large investments improved the basic economic and social infrastructure, but added The Gambia a high external debt burden totalling 114 percent of the GDP (The Gambia 1996). Disappointing world market prices and yields of groundnuts led to an export income failure.

The government of The Gambia in June 1985 adopted the Economic Recovery Programme (ERP), for among other reasons, to increase export earnings and reduce subsistence production of crops (Akinboade 1994, Gambia 1987a).

The most outstanding aim of introducing the ERP was to revitalise the economy and make it self-sustainable through world market adaptation. Due to the importance of the crop sub-sector to Gambian economy large attention were put on modernising food and cash crop production (Akinboade 1994, DeCosse 1992, Jabara 1990). Another purpose of the ERP was to limit the growth in the public-sector expenditure. Providing attractive producer prices to the farmers and eliminate export taxes on agricultural products should make investments in farm inputs as fertiliser and improved technology more attractive (Gambia 1987a).

Concrete policies of ERP were raising producer prices on groundnuts and other agricultural commodities, reducing subsidies on credit and fertiliser, improving the farm credit system to be more viable, and improve the groundnut marketing system. In addition manage to diversify agricultural production and exports (ibid.). Dismantling of the costly agricultural institutions was necessary to cut the expenses (DeCosse 1992).

The introduction of the ERP implied more liberal economical policy strategies than the pre-ERP policies distinguished by state interference. However, the main aims of the agricultural policy did not change: Increase cash crop production and increase the self-sufficiency degree on food.
In the next two chapters, chapter 5 and 6, the farmers' responses to the policy efforts, following the liberal agricultural strategies of the ERP, will be objects of analysis.


previous     next


afrol.com. Texts and graphics may be reproduced freely, under the condition that their origin is clearly referred to, see Conditions.
The copyright of this specific text does not belong to afrol.com, but to the author. See special note.

   You can contact us at mail@afrol.com