Gambia — It is indeed fundamental that the call by the minister of Forestry and the Environment for people to prevent bushfires and work closely towards maintaining our forests be echoed. The importance of our forest cover cannot be overemphasised. Forests have a huge impact on the environment. The trees help in balancing the oxygen-carbon dioxide concentration by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. Forests contribute in regulating temperature; they also regulate the distribution of rainfall.
Trees impede the velocity of run-off on the soil surface, thwarting soil erosion and landslides, thereby reducing possibilities of flooding. The leaves that fall on the forest ground act as nutrient sources that increase soil fertility. The forests also offer shelter against adverse environmental conditions and for diverse forms of wildlife. Moreover, forests are significant not just ecologically, but also economically. Firewood, commercial timber, gums, raisins, medicine and other products for industrial use are obtained from the forest.
In fact, in the countryside, where income generating sources are limited, people, particularly women scout the forests to collect natural foodstuffs and many other wild fruits which they sell to support their livelihood. In short, over a million dalasis is generated in the countryside, yearly, from these natural assets. When bushfire strikes, such an opportunity is ruined and protecting the forest means enhancing grassroots income generation.
However, to ensure that the end results of the campaign bear fruits, the Forestry and Environment Ministry itself should be proactive in the protection of our forests. Young and able-bodied men should be trained to become forest guards. They should also be equipped to be able to frequently patrol the forests in their respective communities.
District courts should also be empowered and effectively trained on the relevant laws so that they can punish those who are hell bent on destroying our forests. Community forests should also be highly encouraged, and the Ministry, through its technical department should establish proper working relations with these community forests so that the objective of the idea can be realised.
The logging of timber should also be checked. It is not unusual for trucks to be seen carrying huge amount of timber along our streets and highways, even though The Gambia is a sahelian country. The Ministry should therefore take steps to ensure that those who are legally permitted to engage in the timber trade do so with caution, while those involved in illegal felling of trees should be apprehended and brought to justice.
In as much as we struggle for development, we owe a great debt to our environment. Responding to the call of the country’s leadership to plant more trees and utilising the mass media particularly the electronic media to sensitise the people about the significance of the forest and the dangers of deforestation are crucial to tackling the deforestation crisis.