Past image
Recent image

Banjul is the capital and the largest city in The Gambia. In the 1960s the built up area of the city and surrounding towns covered only St. Mary’s Island and a small part of the north end of the cape area. The villages that would later grow and be absorbed into the Greater Banjul metropolitan area (many outlined in red) across the rest of the cape were separated by areas of farming and savanna woodland in the 1968 Corona image. Over the next four decades the urban development spread west and south across the cape, swallowing up villages, farms and woodlands as it grew. By 1990 the population had reached roughly half a million for the area shown in the images above. By the time of the 2016 image, it had grown to an estimated 1.39 million (CIESIN, 2005).
The rapidly growing population presents a serious challenge to sustainable use of The Gambia’s land resources (FAO, 2010). The sprawling urban growth (seen as brighter areas in the images) between 1968 and 2016 is needed to house Greater Banjul’s rapidly growing population, but displaces other essential land uses. Demand for agricultural
products grows with the population and drives conversion of natural landscapes to farm fields. Roughly 97 percent of The Gambia’s household energy is from fuel wood (UNDP, 2012). In addition to loss of wooded areas, the pressure on remaining forests has
led to their serious degradation (UNDP, 2012).
The land use and land cover maps show that the settled areas have grown from less than 8 percent of the image area in 1975 to about 29 percent of that area in 2013. During the same time, the area of savanna has been cut in half, going from about 43 percent of the image in 1975 to just over 18 percent in 2013. Some agricultural areas were lost to the expanding urban footprint as well, but because some of the savanna was converted to agriculture the overall area being farmed in the images shown above was slightly greater in 2013 than in 1975. 
The remaining patches of wooded savanna are clearly visible in the 2016 image (dark patches in the inland areas) as are the mangroves of Tanbi Wetland National Park and the Makasutu Culture Forest. The Gambian Forestry Department has emphasized community management of forests for over two decades as a way to build stronger buy-in from local communities to meet goals, which include a long-term target of maintaining a minimum of 30 percent permanent forest cover (Thoma and Camara, 2005). The Gambia has an established ecotourism trade that depends on healthy natural areas for its survival and growth, giving them a stake in preserving the remaining forested areas and mangroves as well (Wally, 2001). Balancing the pressure to meet short-term needs of a growing population against the long-term goals of sustainable land use will challenge The Gambia over the decades ahead.