Gambia — The director of the Forestry department, Jatto Sillah, has stressed the need for attitudinal change amongst Gambians towards the sustainable management of the country’s forestry resources.
He said the deliberate destruction of forest resources through various means could impact negatively on the socio-economic development of the country. Sillah’s remark came in the wake of recent reports of fire incidents in places such as the Kanilai Game Reserve. According to official reports,bush fires, in recent times, have burnt down between 60 and 70 percent of the forest in the Lower River Region. Martina Demba, one of the biggest forest parks in the country, located in the Central River Region, was almost completely burnt.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily Observer, Sillah described these development as “very unfortunate”. Bush fire, he posited, constitutes one of the country’s enemies in its sustainable development drive, particularly in the natural resources sector. Reiterating the negative impact this seemingly unending phenomenon has on the country’s development plans, Sillah pointed out that bush fires do not only affect the forest, but that to a large extent “when bush fires occur the people are affected greatly, as are animals such as small ruminants, wildlife, and a wider range of other living things which contribute immensely in the maintenance of the natural vegetation”
According to Sillah, when bush fires occur, they do not only disturb natural regeneration, but kill it. “Our natural regeneration potential is enough to give us good forests if all hands are on deck to ensure that we protect them from incidents of bush fire,” he said. Emphasising the role of bush fires in enhancing negative climate change and the extinction of certain animal species, the director of Forestry called for changes in attitude. He said that his department has put in place several mechanisms such as participatory forest management, with fire committees having been set up in all villages across the country. He added that they have also instituted sensitisation programmes aimed at putting an end to incidents of bush fire.
Forests, he said, are God-giving endowments which should be jealously guarded against any malicious efforts aimed at destroying them at the detriment of the masses. He warned that those who engage in wanton destruction of the forest will face the full force of the law as the forests belong to all.
Another aspect of deforestation is logging, which also featured prominently in the forestry director’s remarks. His department, he said, is totally against the illegal cutting down of trees, especially when done for individual gain. He said they are working with all the relevant stakeholders, notably the police force, to crackdown on perpetrators of the illegal trade. Sillah believes that the ordinary citizens have a great role to play in this crusade. He thus urged Gambians to be vigilant, saying that “anyone who sees somebody illegally misusing our forest should contact the nearest authority to you for action to be taken.”
On the issue of licences issued to people who engage in logging, Sillah made it categorically clear that his department is not responsible for approving licences to people involved in the trade, pointing out that licences committees are set up in every region of the country, chaired by the regional governors. These committees, he said, have the prerogative to either approve or disapprove requests for licenses.
“The process starts with the Alkalo of a village, who endorses applications on behalf of the Village Development Committee, before it reaches the chief of the district. From there, it gets to the Forestry department for advice and recommendations,” he explained, and added: “It is from there that we send the application back to the regional committee for review, approval or disapproval.” “And when approval is given,” he went on, “it is sent back to the department for payment to be done, followed by issuance of a receipt and permit.” According to the Forestry director, the department has put in place strong control mechanisms in line with the Forestry Act. This Act, he said, completely forbids the cutting down life trees. It only allows for cutting of trees which are dead or are on the verge of dying. “If we find any trader who goes beyond cutting trees that are not recommended, we confiscate everything and take the person to court,” he said.
Charcoal making, a business that is closely linked to logging, is also rapidly expanding. Even though burning of trees for charcoal has been banned in The Gambia for a long time now, almost all major towns and villages in the country have charcoal selling points. The director confirmed that the practice was indeed banned but noted with regret the fact that some people remain defiant. He however said that they are on the look out for perpetrators, warning that anyone caught will face the law.