A story of adaptation in Gambia

Photo : Lalisa Duguma examines a tree healing after fire in The Gambia’s characteristic Sudan Savanna woodland vegetation.
© World Agroforestry/Cathy Watson

This article is reposted courtesy of Panorama Solutions. Read the full solution here.

Batelling village, located in the lower river region of The Gambia, next to Kiang West National Park, faces many challenges: “Previously we had the fruits of ‘duto’, ‘kaba’ and ‘neto’; now wild fruits are almost extinct,” said villager Mamodou Sanyang. The former park ranger added that droughts had started five years ago, and bush fires were now more frequent. “Droughts came because of a shortage of trees. When I was young, we could go five years without a fire.”

Mother of nine, Sustayring Jang, adds, “millet harvests are diminishing and raids by primates are now routine.”

But they believe solutions are emerging under a project they call ‘EbA’. “We are going to enrich the forest in the park with edible wild plants,” says Lalisa Duguma, a senior researcher from the World Agroforestry. ‘This will reduce human-wildlife conflict. The forest around here is very degraded, and monkeys are missing what to eat. It has become a fight for survival for them too.”

A woman surveys her crops in a village community garden.
© UN Environment Programme (UNEP)

After consultations with village members and the wildlife department, fire was identified as the major impediment.

By solving the problem of fire, the project potentially solves the raiding monkeys and loss of wild food, upon which 48% of rural Gambians rely, according to the baseline survey. And, in the future, the resurgent forest might even bring more rain.

The villagers are quietly euphoric. The project paid them to cut a firebreak and clear the vegetation around key species of trees. And in a major victory, the fire that used to scare them every dry season did not cross the firebreak. “Previously we used to be threatened but this year fire was contained. Due to lack of fire, there will be more fruit,” says Jang.

“EbA is really good,” says Mamodou. “It has created a fire belt to prevent fire intrusion and one of the benefits of not having fire is that animals will have an opportunity to eat the fruit and that’s a relief for them.”

Clearing vegetation from around key species also helps as “this tackles the fuel load on the soil surface. Within the same space, we also clear the tall elephant grass that connects the ground to the tree canopy to prevent the vertical expansion of flames engulfing it. Clearing the ground also protects young seedlings around mother trees. And when we created this 10-meter fire strip, the fire had nothing to feed upon and finished here,” he says, pointing to a line on the ground. “The park did not burn. Now we will get natural regeneration of trees.”


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