The Gambia can be described as a classic monoculture; peanuts are the only valuable crop. Land is cleared by the slash-and-burn technique, but farmers practice conservation. Most land is held in common by the villagers. There is a sharp division of labour, with men involved in planting, cultivating, and harvesting cash crops. Women cultivate subsistence crops such as cassava, yams, eggplant, tomatoes, and lentils. There are citrus orchards in the western area near Banjul.
The Gambian economy is based upon peanuts, the main cash crop and the source of most governmental revenue. Production has increased steadily with the wider use of fertilizers and ox-drawn equipment and the introduction of better seeds. In order to diversify the economy the government has encouraged the production of rice. A pilot scheme was begun in the mid-1960s to introduce plantation oil palm production. Stock farming, always a factor in the Fulani culture, has also received government support. The drought years of the 1970s and '80s seriously damaged agricultural production, particularly upriver.
There is some potential for commercial fishing offshore and in the river. Most Gambians are not fishermen, and those who are have been handicapped by inadequate equipment. The government has loaned small amounts for the purchase of motorized fishing boats and the construction of smoke huts for the processing of bonga (shad, or West African herring), which is exported to other western African states.
The only significant industry is peanut processing. The crop is sold to agents of the Gambia Produce Marketing Board, which fixes the season's price in advance, pays the producers in cash, and sells the crop overseas. The agents arrange for transportation of the peanuts to Banjul or Kuntaur, where the nuts are shelled before being shipped. After shelling, a large part of the crop is pressed into oil at pressing mills. The residue is used as cattle cake.
The Gambia has a relatively large volume of trade for a small country. In the early 1980s, however, the country had a yearly adverse balance of trade reflecting the losses caused by the drought. Besides peanuts, exports include cotton, rice, and cattle. All manufactured items must be imported; other imports include petroleum products, lumber, and cement. The chief trading partners are France, Britain, and Senegal.
The Gambia River has historically been the chief route from the interior to the coast, but a modern all-weather road now reaches the eastern border and parallels the river on both sides. There are no railways and no domestic air services. The main port is Banjul, and there is an international airport nearby at Yundum.