Rice is a staple food crop grown and imported to The Gambia, the base for most dishes. Grown in the rainy season, it looks like grain before processing, which involves pounding in a mortar with a pestle. There are several varieties available at the market. These staple crop is grown in what is called a ‘faro‘ (rice paddy fields). The traditional type, grown on the uplands and swamps long before the arrival of the colonial powers, is short grained and it has been left to women to cultivate this variety. It is cultivated as a subsistence crop and a small amount sold as a cash crop.
The rest of the consumer market is satisfied via the major importers of rice to West Africa.
Traditionally they have used the banto faros in the upland areas where the water from the river was not too salty and the fields not too high to prevent their fields from being flooded. It is during the rainy season when the women plant the seedlings from the nurseries to the paddy fields. At the end of the year the rice crop was harvested, and the seed separated from the husk by various threshing techniques.
Between 1966 and 1969 a Mr. Lee led a Chinese (Taiwan) agricultural team which introduced rice cultivation via the method of irrigation on Janjanbureh Island (Georgetown). This initial enthusiasm soon faded and the project ran out of steam. This was followed by another Chinese team (1974-1975) who set up base at the Sapu Rice Research Station in the Central River Division.
In 1973 the Gambia Government started its Development Project. In 1982 a rice irrigation project was started at the Jahali and Pacharr Smallholder Rice Development Fields involving 1,474 hectares in the McCarthy Island Division. Two years later, in 1984, yielded its first harvest. It proved a resounding success with rice yields surpassing all expectations. The area generated 2 crops a year averaging 17 tonnes per acre. This success has yet to be replicated as it was unparalleled worldwide at the time.
Other irrigation projects followed such as RIDEP (Rice Irrigation Development Project) which was started in 1998, Small Scale Water Control Project (SSWC) in 1991, Lowland Agricultural Development Project (LADEP), 1997.