Generally Gambian agriculture has been characterized 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 labor 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.
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 Programs 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 presents 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.
The Ministry of Trade announced that the Gambia aims to reduce the amount of ‘’American Rice’’ import in the tune of $50 million yearly and the government is committed to supporting local farmers to meet local consumers’ demand.
The Gambia has great potential for irrigated agriculture, with fresh water from the River Gambia, rainwater if harvested, and fossil water that can be drilled. It also has a weather pattern that is suitable for almost all production. The Ministry of Agriculture has a mandate to develop and modernize agriculture, and states that they will readily give all necessary support and incentives to any serious investor who wants to invest and operate in support of the government’s efforts to develop the sector.
The Gambia has one of the highest per capita consumption rates of rice in the region. Local production only accounts for a small fraction of the amount of rice consumed, leaving a high demand for imported rice. Given steady population growth of about 3 percent per annum, the demand for imported rice will remain strong. This presents a good opportunity for U.S. rice exporters, with U.S. rice already widely consumed in significant quantities.
Agro-processed Products: The Gambian government seeks to increase the production of honey, fruits, vegetables, and dairy, and seeks to enhance the agricultural value chain while transforming the livestock sector.
Increase production of basic agricultural commodities: The NDP seeks to increase maize, groundnut, rice, onion, and tomato production; and the livestock production in cattle, sheep, goat, pig, and poultry farming,
Fisheries: The Gambian government also seeks to boost fisheries as a percentage of GDP from 6.4 percent to 15 percent and the percentage of fish resources exported from 32 percent to 43 percent by 2021 by increasing fisheries production from 53,719 to 75,000 tons.