THE GAMBIA: SELLING AND MARKETING FOREST PRODUCTS TO IMPROVE LIVELIHOODS.
Poor communities in the Gambia are now earning regular income by selling forest products, thanks to a TCP project that helped 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, fuel-wood, 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.
Discovering the forest's economic potential
In the Gambia, forests were deteriorating at an alarming rate partly due to the state-controlled forest management approach, which ignored the local population. In the 1990s, the Gambian government introduced community forestry, giving ownership of the forest to the communities, in an attempt to improve forest management. But ownership alone did not motivate the communities to preserve and protect their forests. Things started really changing when they discovered the potential of the economic incentives introduced by the TCP project.
"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 to traders passing by in their village 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.
"The project is a great success. Our Forestry Enterprise Development methodology has been adopted by Gambia’s Forestry Department as part of their community forestry strategy and forms part of the curriculum of the Kafuta Forestry School. Additionally, our former project partner The National Consultancy on Forestry Extension Services and Training, NACO, is now involved in training of trainers in Forestry Entreprise Development in Uganda, Ghana and Mozambique" Grouwels said.