A community forest park has been instituted in Berending to revive Gambian culture, create employment and preserve the country’s forest cover amongst others.
The park, according to forestry experts will contribute immensely towards fighting the effects of climate change.
Global temperatures, according to scientists will continue to rise for decades to come, largely due to greenhouse gases produced by human activities.
Speaking to journalists at the forest park, the director of forestry West Coast Region Ousainou Cham, said the park is in line with the ministry of forestry’s policy objective to increase the forest coverage countrywide.
He said the key among the strategies are the promotion of private natural forest, plantation and community forest.
“Our today’s consultative meeting is meant to discuss with the community on the significance of preserving the forest and as well align their fears.
“After this we will put a management plan as required by the forest act in order to use it as management tool to ensure that the forest itself is protected, well stocked and properly managed to at least enhance and mitigate effects of climate change,” he said.
He said among the targeted goals of the forest park will be to enhance agricultural services, environment conservation, soil improvement and the cultural profit.
“The forest park could also serve as a research center, endemic pieces, tourism, cultural exchanges between the Gambia and outside. We don’t want to only concentrate on managing the forest alone, there is community forestry and individual trees around that would be part of our plan,” he explained.
He said the other significance of the park is that it is also the boundary between the last Gambian village and Casamance.
“The forest park is also suitable for the planting of agric forestry, wildlife management; to make a long story short it will be an integrated approach through natural forest management,” he added.
He said his ministry will develop a management plan that will serve as a monitoring tool to ensure there is sustainability, so that there will be nothing like failing. “During the first five years the owner of the park will work closely with the forestry department.”
The park, he said is also designed in such a way that it will create job opportunities for the community.
“We intend to industrialize the park. We want to be making soaps, honey production, eco-tourism and even training the youth on bird watching which is very key,” he said.
He said the park will be run privately, “but it is going to be run together with the community, youth and the women.”
On the issues of sustainability, director Cham said although the environment is now very conducive for change, “business is still as usual in the forestry department.”
“If we want to achieve our goals we have to restructure the system to address the difficulties on the ground. A lot of exploitation was being directed on the forest which today resulted in some very negative impacts, because of wrong policies and dictatorship,” he said.
He said restructure especially in the areas of planning unit and reforest unit will serve as one of the key components of reviving the forest to ensure that targets are set on how many hectares and how many trees “we want to plant in every given year in order to commensurate with the rate of deforestation so that we would be able to know at which rate the forest is degrading.”
He said people are willing to help but there is no head ways yet in the forestry sector.
The Gamtel marketing officer and adviser to the project Lamin Fofana said the rapid degrading of the country’s forest needs immediate solution if not the consequence could be very severe in the long run.
“I can still remember when I was in the forestry department five or so years ago, the forest used to be in a very good condition. But the trend in which it is degrading signals an alarm for government to start doing something about the forest to fight the effects of climate change,” he said.
He said the forest is degrading because there is little or no commitment towards its preservation and until that changes there will be no head ways.
“I have no doubt that the park will be very useful to the community by creating massive job opportunity among others,” he said.
Meanwhile the founder and initiator Tunko Ansumana Saidy said his decision to invest in the preservation of the forest is a spiritual one.
“I believe it is high-time that Africans started to have some sense of self belonging, because we are too much western.
“We are losing our culture, dignity and even our forest that serves as a protector is seriously degrading and almost everybody is keeping quiet about it. I decided to invest in the forest to make a change, because we should return where we come from, which is our culture,” he said.
He said: “I hope my initiative will inspire others to also invest in the area, because if we lose our land scope we may eventually lose our history which could lead to serious consequences for the country.”
The Gambian-German who lives all his life on issues related to forest further stressed that Gambians are behaving too western to an extent that, “we are losing our sense of belonging, which is very unfortunate.”
He said although he is funding the project alone, “if there is commitment from the community and government the park would be a success.”
All the villagers who spoke at the meeting welcomed the idea and called on the initiator to quickly start work at
the forest park.