Agriculture (including forestry and fishing), acounted for 22 percent of GDP and employed 75 percent of the labor force in 1998. Agriculture grew annually at 0.9 percent from 1980-90 and 0.6 percent from 1990-97, a particularly disappointing performance as the population was increasing at 3.2 percent a year. It is the mainstay of the economy, directly supporting about three-quarters of the population, with production mostly undertaken by small-scale farmers, but generating very low incomes.
The main crop and export is groundnuts which takes up 45 percent of the total planting area. Production has generally remained at 80,000 metric tons annually in the 1990s (83,700 in 1998). Exports of groundnuts and related products accounted for an estimated 63 percent of domestic export earnings in 1998. However, a significant proportion of the crop is frequently smuggled for sale in Senegal. Cotton, citrus fruits, mangoes, avocados, and sesame seed are also cultivated for export.
Other crops are sorghum, millet, maize, rice, cotton, and palm kernels. Rice is the staple food, and is cultivated under 3 systems—swamp, upland, and irrigated— but the country is not self-sufficient in food, and large quantities of rice are imported. Livestock production is an important contributor to GDP and includes sheep, cattle, goats, and pigs. Cattle are exported to other West African countries.
The fishing industry has been developed with the assistance of the EU and the African Development Bank and other donors. It has 8 factories and some 15 Gambia-registered vessels. Fish is exported to other West African countries, and the Gambia has agreements with Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Senegal, and Mauritania on fisheries protection and management, including protection of the ecosystem. A program for updating fishing facilities and equipment, supported by the African Development Bank, is running during 2000-05.