Forestry Minister Decries Bushfires, Calls for Afforestation

Forestry Minister Decries Bushfires, Calls for Afforestation

20 June 2011

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Gambia — The minister of Forestry and the Environment has decried the high rate of bushfires in rural Gambia; and renewed his calls for the citizenry to embrace afforestation with a view to enhancing and protecting the country’s forest cover to guarantee “good living”.

Honourable Jatto Sillah, who just returned from a nationwide tour of the provinces was speaking Saturday at the State House grounds in Banjul where he joined scores of stakeholders in a tree planting exercise. The day tree planting exercise, which was organised by the Association of the Wood Re-Exporters and Forest Users in The Gambia in conjunction with the Ministry of Forestry and the Environment, saw the planting of at least 60 palm trees at State House grounds.

The move was also meant to show solidarity with the Gambian leader, His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh, who has championed the afforestation cause in the country, geared towards ensuring that the nation’s flora and fauna are protected. “Gambians, we have to plant trees. I just returned from the provinces and I have to express a little bit of disappointment [because] we still have a lot of bush fires that occurred in the field [even] though it is better than the previous years,” Minister Sillah said during an interview with journalists.

He stressed that if Gambians really want to enjoy a good livelihood, there is the unquestionable need to undertake tree planting as much as possible. He called on the citizenry to plant varieties of trees, be it for food, decoration or forest use, saying that a lot of the country’s regenerations are burnt out. “We have to plant trees. The trees that we planted last year are over one million as requested by His Excellency but we have not done the assessment yet to know the survival rate which we will give in due course. What we did last year was to plant trees in enclosures so that the trees can survive. Any Gambian who has a yard should endeavour to plant trees,” he stated, while disclosing that security installations will be targeted in this year’s tree planting spree.

He continued: “If we don’t plant trees we may not have as quite an enjoyable livelihood as we think. The trees have a lot of ecological functions -even these disaster erosions we are talking of – are only trees that can check the water runoff. So let us plant trees and it doesn’t matter what [type].” Commenting on the tree planting exercise at State House, the Forestry and the Environment minister thanked President Jammeh, pointing out that it was his idea to plant a palm tree at the said area. Sillah went on to assert that the tress planted at State House Grounds as well as the July 22nd Square will change the landscape of these areas, thus making them to look attractive.

He harped on the significant nature of palm trees that are tied to “our culture”. “Palm trees are part of our culture and our heritage, particularly when you talk about Gambian landscape. These are indigenous to Gambia,” added. Minister Sillah also commended the Forest Users for supplying all the tress for Saturday’s planting exercise, which he said will also be extended to the July 22nd Square in Banjul. He concluded by commending the State Guards Battalion for their efforts in this regard, and others for their participation.

The secretary to Cabinet, Saihou Kawsu Gassama, for his part, thanked the organisers for the initiative, which he said is part of President Jammeh’s continuous sensitisations for planting and nurturing trees in view of their significance in the lives of the people. Gassama joined the Forestry and Environment minister to advocate for afforestation in the country, underscoring that “a green environment can contribute towards reducing the stress level of people who have stress,” while pointing out that there are certain scientific values in terms of medicines for human beings.

“There are lots of health benefits of trees apart from the food. So I think this [tree panting initiative] is a worthwhile exercise that needs to be nurtured. I thank His Excellency the president for conceiving the idea,” he added. He stressed the need for the concerns raised by the Forestry and the Environment minister to be noted with a view to embarking on afforestation to enhance and sustain the country’s forest cover for human development. He stressed the need for the trees to be protected by not subjecting them to the menaces of bushfire.

“As we cut the trees down for our human consumption, we need to plant them so that we can have a sustainable level of keeping the forest,” he concluded. The officer commanding State Guards Battalion, Brigadier General Alhaji Martin, thanked the president and commander-in-chief of the Gambia Armed Forces (GAF) for the initiative, while also thanking Minister Jatto Sillah and the stakeholders for the collaboration.

Abdoulie Sanneh, the director of Forestry Department called on Gambians to change their attitude, saying that bushfires are man-coordinated calamity. Sanneh noted that his department has been doing a lot of sensitisations on this issue over the years, but lamented that people are bent on doing whatever they want. “Unless we are able to change our attitude, it will be hard to achieve the goals,” he stressed. He further stressed that the government alone cannot do it, thus calling on the communities to compliment government’s efforts in the sustainable management of the country’s forest cover.

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