Booming housing estate development in Kombo, land use planning and land classification—putting issues of land governance into national development planning policy


By Abdoukarim Sanneh,
London, United Kingdom

Land resources are closely connected to the culture and civilisation of people living in a given place, including their religion, thoughts, livelihood and health. It is important for people to protect their agricultural land and environment because the collapse of land resources such as soil and water leads to the collapse of human civilisation, livelihood and health. With the growing urbanisation in Kombo, the driver of which is the booming and uncontrolled housing estate development, the Gambia need to revisit its land use classification and land-use planning for the interest of good public administration and governance.

Competition for land in Kombo is increasing as demand for multiple uses and ecosystem services rises. The growing unregulated and uncontrolled housing estate businesses are drivers and pressures of conversion of agricultural land in Kombo for human settlement. The current trend of land- use and Land cover in Kombo, which used to be agricultural and horticultural basket of the Gambia, is alarming. The driving forces and pressures of land use change and land cover change need some form of democratic planning as a response that sought to specifically address social issues of inequality and injustice of current land administration in Kombo.


There is a serious commercial/ market pressure on land resources both forest cover and agricultural and farming land in Kombo. Not many studies was done about land cover change in Kombo but any citizens of Kombo can acknowledge the fact that there is no longer a space for farmland/ horticultural garden. The demand for settlement in Kombo had impacts the vegetation cover change of the areas, natural habitat destruction and fragmentation and lack of agricultural land because of encroachment. The history of land cover change began since after the military takeover in 1994 with the development of Kombo Coastal Road Project. There was no social and environmental impact study done to determine the impact of this great engineering work in order to find ways and means of reducing or mitigating the effect of this development on the people of Kombo, their landscape, environment, culture etc. In many part of developing and developed countries, there is growing awareness that road development has major environmental impacts. Some of the major environmental impacts of road projects include damage to sensitive ecosystems, loss of productive agricultural lands, demographic change and accelerated urbanisation.

The Coastal Road Project was a great development initiative and its completion did facilitated road transportation and communication in Coastal Northern, Southern and Central Kombo. However, from Environmental and development planning perspective, which is the discursive analysis of this article, the project failed to look into wider, issues of Sustainability due narrow vision of developmentalist state and its political propaganda associated this development initiative. In many part of the world, big engineering works such as road construction, Airport and Port developments put more emphasis on sustainability through Social and Environmental Impact Studies. The Coastal Road project was a major driver of accelerated urbanisation in Kombo that resulted to significant land cover change and scramble for Land resources.

Scramble for private ownership of land has never been higher as in current in the history of Gambia. Because of this unprecedented growth in numbers of private estate in the bid for private ownership of land, prices have rocketed sky-high. This is not due to the simple economic principle that land value appreciates over time. More than, just that, players in the land game have kept both demand and prices growing higher and higher, it emerged that there is a new breed of land grabbers in the corridors of power. Traditional land owners in different communities are being dispossessed of land inherited from generation of their ancestry. Communal reserved land for agricultural and collective use in many party of Kombo is being transformed into privately commercial ownership for profits.

With agrarian based economy, the Gambia really needs to reform its land-use policies and legislation to manage agricultural land. Equally urgent is the need to protect the forest cover from rising demand of human settlements in order to meet the challenges of demographic growth and environmental degradation.
The current trend of rapid urbanisation in Kombo needs to be controlled. This can only be done through strict land classification and land-use planning to manage land resources to meet the need of communities while at the same time safeguarding our natural environment. According to Royal Town Planning Institute, land-use planning means the scientific, aesthetic, and orderly disposition of land, resources, facilities and service with a view to securing the physical, economic and social efficiency, health and wellbeing of urban and rural communities.

The coalition Government of President Adama Barrow during the campaign for Presidential election in December 2016 promised the people of Kombo that they would solve land administration issues, which are still at disarray. It is almost two years with octogenarian Minister in charge of Land Administration, the Ministry of Lands, is yet to stipulate any policy about wider issues of land governance in Kombo. The Ministry cannot continue to be muted in silence when communal land, gazetted forest park like Bijilo Money Park and agricultural lands in all part of Kombo are driven into private hands in the name of either tourism or Housing Estate development for individual profit making.

The Gambia needs to revisit its land-use planning and land classification. With proper land-use planning, spatial planning within the context of regional/ local government planning could be a catalyst of ecosystem-based environmental land use planning and a tool to strengthen land governance, improve economic opportunities and reconcile conservation and development. With commercial pressure on land resource in Kombo, spatial and land use planning can contribute to sustainable land management by protecting land of agricultural significance from urban and peri-urban encroachment, protecting natural capital from urban and peri-urban development, flood plain management, preventing or limiting vegetation clearing, protecting natural habitat from destruction or fragmentation. For example, in United Kingdom, which a small Island country with a population of 65.64 million according to 2016 census even with demographic pressure on land resources, the country had put in place a land use classification. From its Town and Country Planning Act 1947, 1990, these legislations established planning permission for land development. Within the country’s land classification, there is Brownfield, which is for real property or redevelopment, Land for Industrial development or mining, Green belt, Land for Special Nature Conservation, Agricultural Land etc. This is what is known as zoning in land-use planning. It helps to regulate the types of activities that can be accommodated on a given piece of land.

With pressure on Land in Urban Kombo for human settlement, many lowland elevations had been turned into built environment and with land cover change, anytime there are heavy rains; many areas are vulnerable to flash flooding because of lack of buffer and poor drainage facilities. Gambia need to pursue a tenure responsive land use planning in Kombo that recognised that land use planning in our national development action plan should be collaborative with the purpose of tenure security improvement. 22 years of weak governance was a major constraint to land use, land governance and land tenure in Kombo. In our pathway to widen the space for democratic governance, is fundamental that Government take responsible stand for comprehensive land use and management putting into consideration the important of food economy, environmental benefits, community security and peace.