Documentation:Open Case Studies/FRST522/Is the Implementation of Community Forestry in The Gambia Sustainable in Economic Aspect?

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This paper examines the economic sustainability of the implementation of community forestry in The Gambia. The Gambia is one of the smallest countries with abundant forest resources before independence.[1] However, with the rapid growth of human population since the 1950s, forest destruction became inevitable due to the pressure from rising demand on forest resources.[1] At that time, the state controlled and managed the majority of the forest resources.[1] The forest department implemented several policies to conserve forest resources and restore the ecosystem.[2] But, people showed little participation and little willingness to follow those policies because of limited access to forest resources.[2] As the forest department was facing limited labor and financial support, the forest department decided to transfer ownership to local communities and depend on communities’ efforts to protect the environment.[3] As a result, various small to medium forest enterprises formed during the process of forest management decentralization.[4] Those enterprises contributed to sustainable forest management and poverty alleviation.[5] The pioneering experience of community forestry implementation in The Gambia inspires other countries to manage natural resources through participatory forest management effectively. However, sustainable development of the economy is challenged by several factors, including corruption, unstable political environment, and lack of financial support.[6] [7] In conclusion, the Gambian government contributed to the development of community forestry at the early and mid stage and did bring remarkable progress in the economic dimension. However, if the government does not take action to deal with the challenges that enterprises and communities are facing, the implementation of community forestry cannot be sustainable in the long term.


Community Forestry, The Gambia, Economic Sustainability, Local Communities and Indigenous People, Small Forest Enterprises (SFEs), Forest Department, Corruption, Poverty Alleviation, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)


Overview of The Gambia

Gambia, The-CIA WFB Map (2004)

The Republic of The Gambia is situated on the west coast of Africa, surrounded by Senegal to the north, east, and south and by the Atlantic Ocean to the west. In 1965, The Gambia achieved its independence from Britain and became an independent sovereign country. [8] The Gambia is one of the smallest countries in Africa, with a total area of around 11,300 square kilometers.[9] However, according to The World Bank data, The Gambia is a densely populated country with 2,280,100 people, and the total population appears to show an upward trend.[10] The Gambia gains world-wide attention as a great example of the implementation of participatory forest management in Africa. The Gambia is acknowledged as a pioneer in the decentralization of forest resource management by transferring forest ownership from the state to interested forest community.[6] The Gambia is one of the poorest countries in the world with a human development indicator value of 0.46, positioning itself at 174 out of 189 countries and territories.[11] The economy in The Gambia is small-scale and vulnerable to the outside shocks; It mainly depends on tourism, rain-dependent agriculture and remittances.[12]

Forest Resources and Tenure Change in The Gambia

The Gambia possessed abundant forest resources before its independence; The majority of the forest cover was classified as the closed forest of the Guinea-savanna and Sudan-savanna.[1] According to the National Forestry Inventory of 1998, forty-three percent of the land in The Gambia is designed as forest; however, seventy-eight percent of the forest area has been severely degraded.[13] Extensive expansion of agriculture activities and overexploitation of timber and non-timber products in responding to the pressure from the rapid growth of population since the 1950s, resulting in considerable deforestation and forest degradation.[1] Frequent incidences of bush fires was considered as very serious cause of forest deterioration.[14] Even though the Gambian government passed some forest policies attempting to protect the natural resource and restore ecosystems, those policies achieved little progress because they did not take communities’ potential for joint forest management and equitable benefit sharing among stakeholders into consideration.[2] As the Gambian government lacked human capital and financial support in managing and protecting resources, they realized they could depend on communities’ efforts to achieve sustainable forest management and restore the environment.[3] Thus, The Gambian government implemented community forestry with the support of the Forestry Department and German government through the Gambia-German project in 1991 and aimed at letting local communities recognize tree values and inspiring their interests to protect forests resources as a source of income/ livelihood.[2] The key steps towards completing the transfer of ownership from the State to the local community are briefly presented at Preliminary Community Forest Management Agreement (PCFMA) and Community Forest Management Agreement (CFMA).[3] The Forest Act and the Forest Regulation were reformed to support community forestry by providing a legal framework for participatory forest management forests.[15]

Forest tenure is considered an effective instrument for the forest sector to promote poverty alleviation and improve the livelihoods of local communities.[15] The forest tenure in The Gambia involves two main elements: ownership of the trees and vegetation growing on the land and the ownership of the land itself .[15] There are primarily four types of forest tenure in The Gambia, including forest reserves (86%), forest parks (4%), jointly managed (4%), and community forest (6%).[15] Forest resource was under state control and management before the implementation of community forestry. [2] After the implementation of a German-funded community forestry project, the department of forestry started to grant leasehold rights to local communities to speed up the ‘scientific’ forest resource management; however, local communities were granted little sovereignty and subjected to a set of management tasks.[16] Except in the Banjul area, all the land, including customarily owned land was annexed by the Gambian government in 2002. Thus, people have to partner with the government or apply for community and private forestry status from the state to gain ownership of natural forests.[15] Local government decentralization happened after the implementation of community forestry. The Local Government Act of 2002 enables local government to protect, control, and manage the forest resources at the district-level.[17] Now, forests of The Gambia are divided into three main categories, which are state forests, participatory forest management and private forests. [15]

Sustainability of Community Forestry in Economic Dimension

This part will primarily assess the sustainability of community forestry in the economic aspect by evaluating the performance of small forest enterprises (SFEs) in the western region of The Gambia. It is vital to understand the concept of economic sustainability and the importance of SFEs in the context of the implementation of the community forestry in The Gambia before the assessment. In my opinion, economic sustainability in this case study should incorporate three principal elements. The first element is that SFEs can generate steady economic growth with or without external support in the long term. The second element is that the development of the economy should not lead to environmental degradation. Last but not least, local communities should benefit from economic growth, such as using the revenue to pay for the school building. When it comes to small to medium forest enterprises, they play an important role in improving the livelihoods and well-being of local communities, especially for rural communities. [5] The majority of the small to medium forest enterprises are labor-intensive, and therefore can contribute to poverty alleviation by providing employment and boost economic development in the long term.[5] According to the case study conducted by Tomaselli et al., various SFEs have been formed as a result of the implementation of community forestry in The Gambia.[4] Those enterprises mainly focused on five different forest-related activities: firewood, branch wood, beekeeping, handicrafts (furniture), and ecotourism.[4] Business structures and arrangements of small to medium forest enterprises are simple but diverse.[5] No matter what forms of the business, those SFEs have a tight connection with the local community as they operate activities on the community level, generate the wealth that remains within the community, and improve the local employment rate and the livelihoods of rural communities.[18]

The Capacity of SFEs in Accessing Microfinance

Many financial institutions in The Gambia, including commercial banks and microfinance providers, were well expanding to both rural and urban areas.[6] However, SFEs still have limited access to full ranges of financial services, especially credits. [6] As the potential restricted policies change by The Gambian government may affect the enterprises’ ability to repay loans, savings and guarantees are required by most of the financial institutions for forest-based enterprises to have access to loans.[4] Thus, the lack of collateral became the primary reason that hinders SFEs’ access to credits from formal sources.[19] To deal with that problem, in most cases, SFEs get access to financial support through group or association loans.[4] Or, community enterprises usually apply for loans from microfinance institutions as they do not require savings, but the interest rates are relatively high, ranging from 10% to 30%.[4] The other potential obstacle that may hinder SFEs from accessing credit is the future availability of forest resources. [6] As those small enterprises highly depend on forest resources, the availability of raw materials from forests will directly affect the capacity of repayment. It is risky for banks and other financial institutions to offer loans to SFEs who are not able to exploit natural resources sustainably.

However, several organizations have built a coalition with the local communities attempting to improve forest financing in recent years. For example, Food and Agriculture Organization, the National Forest Programme Facility and the Growing Forest Partnerships programme have established the Western Africa Forest Finance initiative, which aims at developing financial strategies to support community forestry activities in Western Africa.[20]  Also, to support the development of community-based forest enterprises, the field training of community representatives on “Group management of finance” was implemented to assist those SFEs in assessing microfinance and manage group finance.[20] In general, the small forest enterprises are on a bumpy road of development, filled opportunities and challenges. Small forest entrepreneurs need to reach out and take full advantage of financial support resources to solve the challenges of limited microfinance.

Double-hatted Role of The Gambian Government

The government of The Gambia plays a critical role in generating the conditions which are necessary for small and medium forest enterprises to form and develop. The department of forestry is the main source of providing capacity-building activities, such as training on enterprise development or guidelines relevant to forest management.[6] For example, all the studied firewood enterprises have been trained to plan and carry out operations in the Market Analysis and Development methodology, which is a participatory approach aimed at assisting forest-dependent individuals or communities in developing enterprises while managing forest resources sustainably. [21] [22] As those community-running forest enterprises are the new entrants to the industry, they do not have related professional background and experiences of managing enterprises. Thus, those capacity building activities are useful and critical as they help the community-based forest enterprises enter the industry smoothly. Ongoing capacity building activities have the potential to increase the competitiveness of enterprises as well. Guidelines provided by the forestry department can foster the awareness of resource protection as well. In most cases, local communities recognize The Gambian government has been a vital actor in the development of SFEs, rather than a regulatory agent imposing top-down rules.[21]

On the other hand, the corrupt government could be an impediment to develop community forests sustainably. Many firewood and branchwood enterprises have experienced illegitimate payments required by police and forestry officers at roadside checkpoints along Gambian roadways.[6] High incidence of corruption has dramatically shrunk the profits of the business and slowed down the development of firewood and branchwood businesses.[6] Not only for SFEs, but corruption has also strongly influenced the political environment in The Gambia. Yahya Jammeh, who is the ex-president of The Gambia, conceded defeat in the election three years ago. Most of the institutions in The Gambia were affected by 22 years of dictatorial rules during ex-president tenure, and they were either broken or near bankruptcy. [7] [23] The new government, led by current president Adama Barrow promised to create jobs, repeal bad laws and develop a level of the political playing field.[7] However, Gambians who voted for Barrow are not satisfied with the president’s performance as Barrow has made little progress in what he promised, still many cases of power abuse in the country.[7]

According to The Gambia Bureau of Statistics, 41.5% of the Gambia’s youth were unemployed in 2018.[23] Based on the interview about overcoming corruption’s toll with Gambia Finance Minister, Amadou Sanneh, The Gambia is experiencing ongoing transition in both economic and political aspects; The Gambia is facing several challenges, including loss of skilled civil servants, limited resources available and capacity problems. The government relied on local people to get into business and establish entrepreneurship to build up the economy.[22] This interview stimulates deep thinking about the possibility of developing community forestry sustainably in the context of a broken country. It also indicates the uncertainty of participatory forest management in the economic dimension. For example, a lack of financial support can affect services provided by the government, such as capacity-building activities. Both the political stability and economic stability are vital for the implementation of community forestry. Loss of credibility by the government makes the process of rebuilding the country more difficult.

Success or Failure ?

The Gambia gains world-wide attention as a great example of the implementation of participatory forest management in Africa. However, the development of community forests is not smooth, facing domestic and international pressure with many challenges and opportunities. We will oversimplify the situation if we assess the success or failure of the implementation of community forest by just listing opportunities and challenges. It is appropriate if we can evaluate the implementation of community forest according to different stages. In the early stage, The Gambian government is considered as a pioneer in implementing community forestry management, and their successful experience could positively affect the adoption of participatory forest management by other countries in Africa.[6] Small forest enterprises, as the product of community forestry, their development highly depend on the government’s help and support.[21] The Gambian government invested lots of effort to foster small community-based enterprises in the mid-stage and did achieve significant progress in terms of poverty alleviation, village development, and sustainable forest management. [5] [21] However, so far, SFEs are facing several challenges, such as a corrupt government and an unstable economical environment. [7] Those challenges can lead to restricted development of forest-related activities in the future, which may even result in business bankrupt and further influence the livelihood of local communities. These challenges also have the potential to pose a threat to the sustainability of community forest management.[6] Thus, the implementation of community forestry could be a failure if we underestimate the impacts of those challenges. Both local communities and The Gambian government to take action immediately to combat those challenges.

Assessment of Major Social Actors

In this case study, the major stakeholders in the community forestry in The Gambia includes forestry department, local communities and indigenous people, and non-government organizations.

Affected Stakeholders

Affected stakeholder refers to “any person, group of persons or entity whose long-term welfare is likely to be dependent or subject to the effects of activities, or have an emotional/lived connection in a locally important or customarily claimed forest area” . [24] In this case study, the primary affected stakeholders are local communities and indigenous people. Before forest ownership was transferred from The Gambian government to local communities, their objective is to access forest resources for subsistence use, such as fuelwood for cooking.[2] At the same time, they also fought for traditional tenure rights over land and forest resources.[2] After the implementation of community forestry, the objective of local communities and indigenous people is to achieve secure land tenure without sudden policy change, which may affect their ability to get a loan and further negatively impact the performance of small forest enterprises.[6] As most of the rights of local communities and indigenous people are granted by the Gambian government (forest department), their power partially relies on the forest department. [15] However, their power can affect the decision of the forest department as well, further facilitating the implementation of community forestry. For example, with the increasing pressure on forest resource caused by a growing population and illegal exploitation, forest degradation and deforestation has become the major concern for the Gambia.[15] Policies about protecting natural resources were ineffective due to the exclusion of local communities from using forest resources, result in their unwillingness to take part in protecting and managing what used to be ‘their forests’. [2] Then. Forest department realized that they must obtain the local communities’ willingness and active participation in forest resource protection.[2] Thus, the forest department launched a community forestry approach trail in 1990.[2] Although local communities and indigenous people hold little proportion of power, their attitudes to natural resources can affect the policy change.

Interested Stakeholders

Interested stakeholder means “any person, group of persons or entity that is linked in a transaction or an activity relating to a forest area, but do not have a long-term dependency on that forest area”. [24] The main interested stakeholders are forest department and non-government organizations, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization. The objective of the forest department is to protect and manage natural resources sustainably.[2] Forest department has great power in developing forest policies and leasing tenure rights to local communities through agreements. [15] However, the forest department has to depend on local communities’ efforts to achieve nature resources protection.[2] For the Food and Agriculture Organization, they do not rely on forest land for long-term livelihood but have interests in conserving forest resources and assisting local communities to develop small forest enterprises sustainably. The power of the FAO is lower than the forest department but higher than local communities and indigenous people. Although FAO does not have the political power to decide forest policies, it has abundant connections with other countries, outside donors and knowledgeable people.[20] FAO can fully take advantage of those connections and provided a platform for The Gambia to use other countries’ successful experience and expertise to standardizing their community forest practice; or, to attract investments from outside donors. Also, FAO can build partnerships with other organizations, such as Western Africa Forest Finance initiative, to assist community forest activities in western Africa.[20] In general, local communities and FAO can be allies in most cases.


Based on the current situation of community forestry in The Gambia, I put forward two recommendations, which are scaling up the implementation of Community Forestry in nationwide and balancing power distribution by building coalitions.

Scale up The Implementation of Community Forestry

By 2005, 94% of the forests are still under state control, while 6% of the forests are under the control of local communities, indigenous people and tribal communities. [25] The participatory community forestry has not been widely promoted nationwide. In the case study about community forestry in Nepal, findings indicate that community forestry is well established at a large scale and has been integrated national development programs. [26] Nepal has more than 14,000 community forest user groups in the country, managing around 1.2 million hectares of forests by early 2006. [26] A large scale of community forestry is conducive to secure land tenure and develop forest policies that are in favor of their benefits. [26] So, my first suggestion is to scale up the community forestry in The Gambia. By promoting the implementation of community forestry, local communities and indigenous people have a greater chance of ensuring their voices can be heard. As mentioned above, even though the forest department has relatively great power, they still need to rely on local-level efforts to manage forest resources sustainably. So, the forest department can manage forests more effectively if we can scale up the implementation of community forestry national wide. With more indigenous people and local communities engaged in community forestry, they can establish a civil society organization, such as the Federation Of Community Forestry User, Nepal (FECOFUN), to influence forest policies and governance practices associated with community forestry.[26]

Balancing Power Distribution

Conflicts of interest always exist between the forest department and indigenous people and local communities, either before or after the implementation of community forestry. In my opinion, the root cause of conflicts is asymmetric power distribution. Clayoquot Sounds had experienced a similar situation in War in Woods as well. Local residents, the peoples of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, and different levels of environmental non-government organizations have worked together to build a coalition to protect their pristine forest resources and to seek power balance.[27] They put pressure on the British Columbia provincial government and MacMillan-Bloedel logging company. [27] Eventually, indigenous people and local residents in Clayoquot Sound halted the logging activities and remedied imbalance power successfully.[27] There is a call for governance transition from top down-control to a bottom-up approach. Clayoquot Sound’s successful experience can apply in The Gambia. Indigenous people and local communities in The Gambian can establish a coalition with helpful NGOs to require empowerment form the forest department. Balancing the power between the forest department and indigenous people and local communities will contribute to resolving environmental conflicts. It also can be an effective strategy to motivate indigenous people and local communities to protect natural resources and sustainably use those resources.


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