Selling forest products to improve livelihoods
Villagers in the Gambia learn how to produce and market more successfully
7 September 2005, Rome - Poor communities in the Gambia are now earning regular income by selling forest products, thanks to an FAO programme that helps communities to build up markets for local products.
In a pilot area of 26 villages suffering extreme poverty, people learned about the potential value of forest products and how they could be marketed more successfully.
Villagers interested in marketing forest products have set up their own businesses and organized themselves in producer associations to sell honey, logs, fuelwood, mahogany posts, handicrafts and palm oil on nearby markets. They are also making additional income from tree nurseries and ecotourism.
"Before the start of the project, villagers had not explored the market potentials of handicrafts made of Rhun palm leaves, because they did not have the practical skills or market knowledge. Now they are selling products such as chairs, tables, lampshades, baskets and beds made of these leaves," said Sophie Grouwels, an FAO community forestry expert.
In the Gambia, forests were deteriorating at an alarming rate partly due to the state-controlled forest management approach, which ignored the local population. Therefore, in the 1990s, the Gambian government introduced community forestry, giving ownership to the communities, in an attempt to improve forest management. Despite this change, the communities still did not have many incentives to conserve the forests until the programme was introduced.
"In the past, when people from the village saw bushfires, we only protected the village but didn't care if the entire forest burned. We thought it didn't matter because regardless of what happened, the government would take whatever was there. Now, we know things are different. If we see a fire five kilometres away, we go and see where it is and where it is going. We don't let our forests burn," said Modu Jarju from one of the villages.
"People who used to shun managing forests or exploited them, are now asking for more forests to own and manage in order to earn more income," said Grouwels.
Communities that used to sell a truckload of fuelwood at around US$50 prior to their involvement in the FAO project are now selling the same amount of wood at around US$700 after having organized themselves in a producer federation.
"Given the success of this project, FAO hopes its methodology will be applied in other parts of the Gambia and other countries," Grouwels said.
The project is funded by the Government of Norway.
Information Officer, FAO
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