Horticultural crop production has long been recognised as a means of diversifying the production base of the Gambian economy, for increasing the self-reliance of the country’s producers and, very importantly, for improving the food security situation of the country. The Gambia is a small and densely populated country whose urban areas are centred in and around the capital Banjul. Horticultural crop production is concentrated in this urban region, where there are many community gardens primarily devoted to cool season vegetable production.
The main vegetable crops grown are onions, tomatoes, cabbage and peppers, although some of the older gardens also produce fruit crops including paw-paws, mangoes and citrus. Production is based on community gardens organized and managed by women’s groups. The most critical environmental factor affecting crop development is the shortage of water, since production is largely confined to the dry season when plant growth can only be sustained through reliable irrigation. For the most part, gardens depend for their water on relatively shallow, hand-dug wells and therefore sites are located in low-lying areas where the water table is near the surface. Stock-proof fencing is another essential for successful crop production in the region.
The women gardeners have become skilled in growing horticultural crops but post-harvest handling, distribution and marketing activities are less well developed. Produce that is surplus to domestic needs finds an outlet through tourist hotels and local markets, but gluts frequently occur and attempts are being made to overcome this problem. One approach has been to stagger production by advancing planting dates, although this has often proved difficult as women are not usually available to start work on their gardens until the completion of the rice harvest. A spread in production could also be achieved by planting a suitable range of early and late cultivars, but this depends heavily on a timely supply of high quality seed. Overall, the gardens make a useful contribution to the country’s economy and to the health of its people, and represent an important focus for development.