Six of us from school were very lucky to spend a week in Gambia with the Charity Concern Universal. Our school won the Giving Nation Social Action Award 2010. Our mission for the week was to report back on sustainable agricultural and tourism under the guidance of Concern Universal and Giving Nation.
We would like to share what we have learnt.
Gunjur Environmental Protection and Development Group
We visited Gunjur Environmental Protection and Development Group (GEPADG) on our very first morning. We were met by a small group of volunteers acting as our guides, who explained that GEPADG’s aim is “to enhance the livelihoods of the local people). We set off on our tour of GEPADG’s protected area of conservation, near the lodge. On the way, we met a man wheeling his bike along with a large pile of wood strapped to it. Our guides started shouting at the man in Mandinka, and someone explained that the man had illegally chopped the wood in GEPADG’s conservation area, and as a result could face up to six months in prison, or a huge fine. However, our guides (who are also wardens of the area) decide to let the man go, in order to avoid building “animosity” with the local people. This was the first challenge we’d faced in Gambia – should the man be allowed to chop firewood to cook on, or should the area be preserved?
We carried on further into the area, and were struck by the beauty and diversity of the plant life all around us. The Gambia, in common with much of Africa, has issues regarding deforestation; too many trees are being cut down, primarily for cooking with, and the lack of vegetation is leading to other, more long-term problems such as soil erosion and loss of wildlife. GEPADG is trying to promote conservation of the local habitat, and their reserve in Gunjur is a rare example of Gambia this remarkable habitat, at just 320 hectares. We saw fabulously exotic plants such as the Locus Bean (traditionally used to ward off malaria), cashew trees, Winter Throne trees (they drop their leaves just before the rains come, helping farmers time their harvests, and are also used as a toothache remedy), breadfruit trees, mango trees, palm trees (used for palm oil and making palm wine), and grape plums, which come from the baobab tree and make baobab juice. There are also the West African Laburnums, and our guides assured us that “the African man marries two women because of this tree”, in recognition of its use as a herbal Viagra!
We reached a lake filled with flocks of wild birds. The Gambia has lost much of its wildlife due to hunting (the last leopard was shot in the 1980s), but it’s still famous for its birdlife. We saw an African Spoonbill walking along a sandbank with a tall stork, and a heron (we’re so used to seeing them at home, it was oddly incongruent against the backdrop of mangroves). We walked along the bank of the lake and came across a small inlet with a hole at the back of it, and learned that it’s a crocodile burrow. Despite our curiosity, no-one was brave enough to have a closer look! We also spotted a crocodile in the water on the other side of the lake…from a distance…mostly submerged…but still very exciting!
GEPADG are currently trying to raise funds to build an office where the wardens can sit and monitor people going in and out of the reserve, and hopefully limit illegal logging and hunting there. However, their official funding has recently been cut so therefore their only source of income comes from their own fundraising, which has to cover renting an office, wages, and general running costs. You can visit GEPADG’s website on http://www.genvironment.co.uk/.