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Forestry Sector in Gambia
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Land & Forest Use:
Apart from Gambian forestry's critical importance to the biological diversity of a number of life systems, it also also has natural resources which provide vital energy, materials for the building industry, food and medical drugs to the population. 43% of the country’s entire land area (505,000 hectares) is under forest cover with woodland making up for 10% and the remainder consisting of savanna and mangroves which are found along the Gambia River.

The mangroves system is estimated to cover 60,000 to 67,000 ha. There are 66 natural forest park areas covering a total area of 34,000 ha.

There are currently 6,462 ha of forest land under the management of community projects. The forest ecosystem has significantly changed in the last 2 to 3 decades from being a dense and highly biologically diverse environment to its present scant state. High population growth is the single most important reason for the state of deforestation. The Forest Policy (1995-2005) aims to maintain, reserve and develop 30% of forest land resources of the country ensuring that 75% of these forest areas are managed by local people in their communities.

At the turn of the last century the Gambia's land territory was extensively covered in pristine forests. However, with the advent of an expanding population, the balance between humans and the environment became destabilised and a process of de-forestation had begun.

The main cause of this deforestation was the unchecked use of fires which systematically destroyed most of the vegetation cover. The other causes were and are still  the felling of trees for firewood, demarcating fences, building purposes, and clearing for the purpose of grazing livestock.

Secondary savannas are characterised by less diversity made up of mainly fire resistant vegetation. Their increase is a direct consequence of regular fires which do not allow the restoration of the original vegetation cover. Other effects and impacts of uncontrolled bush and forest fires include:

• soil and water degradation due to the release of minerals stored in the burnt biomass, and the deterioration of physical composition and chemical soil properties;

• an alteration of the micro-climate;

• change and loss of habitat for the indigenous flora and fauna population;

• loss of biomass which could be used for animal fodder, fuel, compost, etc.;

• air pollution.

The process of deforestation is still going on. It is steadily reducing the biological and economic productivity and viability of the Gambian forest ecosystems as well as that of the surrounding croplands and will lead to irreversible losses of land productivity if it cannot be halted and reversed. The main cause of wildlife / biodiversity loss is habitat destruction. Poaching/ illegal hunting is also a contributory factor.

Farmers Attitudes:
A number of research studies have been conducted in recent years and they indicate that most of the Gambian farmers can well identify between the past and present environmental situation and are aware of the consequences and effects of deforestation. However, they have been farming for generations and may not have thought about modern, new techniques to preserve soil fertility and protecting land. Others may simply not have any means nor time or both, because of more important genuine businesses and social obligations. Land borrowers are constrained to develop the land they cultivate due to the traditional land tenure system. Marginal groups of the society often do not have access to land at all. They are forced to clear forest land for crop production or depend on forest products exploitation in order to survive.  This can be in the form of selling firewood or poaching.

International Conventions:
The Government of The Gambia has ratified the international Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD), the the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD),  of the United Nations.

Source: Dept. of Forestry

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