“Re-claiming” Land in The Gambia: Gendered Property Rights and Environmental Intervention
By definition, land reclamation programs render marginally productive land resources more valuable to a broader set of users. The question of who gets access to rejuvenated lands is often highly political, however. Environmental managers “reclaim” land resources by rehabilitating them, but they simultaneously reanimate struggles over property rights in the process, allowing specific groups of resource users to literally and figuratively “re-claim” the land. Relying on data gathered during fourteen months of field work between 1989 and 1995, this paper analyzes the openings created by environmental policy reforms introduced over the past two decades along The Gambia River Basin, and the tactics and strategies rural Gambians have developed to manipulate these policies for personal gain. Specifically, I demonstrate how women market gardeners pressed “secondary” usufruct rights to great advantage to ease the economic impact of persistent drought conditions for the better part of a decade, only to have male lineage heads and community leaders “re-claim” the resources in question through donor-generated agroforestry and soil and water management projects. This is thus a study of the responses different community groups have made to a shifting international development agenda centered on environmental goals. It is simultaneously an analysis of those environmental policies and practices and their impact on gendered patterns of resource access and control within a set of critical rural livelihood systems.