The Gambia has a predominantly subsistence agrarian economy and remains a least developed and low-income, food-deficit country, with a total population of 1.7 million. It is ranked 151st out of 169 countries in the 2010 United Nations Human Development Index, with a per capita GDP of US$329 (2008) and has 63 percent of the population living below the poverty line. The government is committed to achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) despite significant resource constraints and high levels of debt.
The World Bank “Poverty Assessment Report” (2009) estimated that in 2007 (prior to the food and financial crises), poverty rates had not experienced any real decline from 2003. An estimated 63 percent of the population still live below the poverty line (earning less than U$1 a day) and are highly susceptible to minor changes in their conditions. Poor households have limited access to basic food commodities, and domestic food production meets less than 50 percent of the total national food requirements. Crop production over the past five years was not encouraging. In 2009, harvest figures showed an increase of 30% over 2008 and while the last harvest (end 2010) has shown some improvement (Department of Planning, Ministry of Agriculture, 2010) it was still well below meeting more than half of the population’s food needs.
In 2010, the inflation of basic food commodities stood at 8.1 percent, and this is expected to increase further with the removal of fuel subsidies. Fuel priced increased by 15% in 2011 (World Bank, 2011). In addition, an import sales tax of five percent on rice, the staple food, was reinstated in January 2010. This tax led to price increases that particularly affect urban populations (which constitute almost 55 percent of the total population), as well as the most vulnerable throughout the country. Depreciation of the Gambian Dalasi in July 2010 and reduced affordability of imported food commodities. In 2010, the inflation of basic food commodities stood at 8.1 percent (Ministry of Finance, 2010).
The Gambia also experiences floods and crop damage from heavy rainfall (usually from May – September). According to the Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis (CSFVA), led by WFP (2011), 11% of the population of the Gambia is food insecure or vulnerable to food insecurity, of which 140,081 were considered vulnerable, while 5,101 are identified as food insecure. Higher proportions of the food insecure population are found in the Lower Saloum, Foni and Janjanbureh districts. According to the report, there is prevalence of high incidence of poverty, which is highly linked to vulnerability.
Of the national population of children under five, 6% are wasted and 22% stunted (UNICEF, 2009). 19.9% of infants have low birth weights and 20.3% of children under 5 are underweight.
The Government is committed to achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) but has significant resource constraints and is highly indebted. Domestic public debt alone stands at 25.3% (World Bank, 2011).