• Exploring the relationship between forest resource users and their disappearing forest: what do rural Gambians think are the causes and solutions for deforestation?

      Harris, Samantha; Todd, Susan; Gasbarro, Tony; Seefeldt, Steven (2017-06)
      This is a case study of a small rural community in The Gambia where I was a Peace Corps volunteer for 27 months. The savannah woodland there is classified as a dry tropical forest and like many such areas in the Sahel, the population is growing rapidly. During my time there, I observed a great dependence on local forests but no apparent management. One man told me, "If all the trees perish, then we will all perish." Given this level of dependence, I was surprised to see little evidence that they were planting trees or taking other measures to protect the forest. I wanted to find out just how dependent people were on the forest and whether they saw deforestation as a problem. If they saw it as a problem, what did they feel were the causes of it and what did they think would solve it? Since I was living in the area, I was able to use participant observation as a method in my research. I also used semi-structured interviews of key informants and focus group interviews in five communities that were located close together. I found that the people are extremely dependent on the local forest for firewood, lumber for houses and fences, foods like baobab and mangoes, and herbs for medicines (they had limited access to commercial medicines). This dependence places them in a precarious situation as rural poverty and food insecurity forces farmers to expand their agricultural fields at the expense of the forests. Everyone saw deforestation as a problem and noted that they have to walk farther to gather firewood and that the forest was once thick with trees and wild animals, but now "many trees have perished" and there are few animals. They saw population growth as the primary cause of deforestation, because that forces them to clear trees to make room to grow more crops. They also mentioned illegal logging, drought and bushfires as problems for the forest. They viewed tree planting as the primary solution and would like to plant trees near their homes where they could protect them, but there are a host of challenges to growing seedlings in this region. The biggest problems are watering the seedlings, as that requires carrying many gallons of water to each seedling on a daily basis, and protecting young trees from termites as well as goats and other animals. They would like to have more support from the Gambian government to teach them better ways to plant and grow trees, to learn more about manure and other ways to improve soil fertility, to help them pay for good fences, and to combat bushfires. There are many studies regarding tree planting, but few of them address the cultural perspective of forest use and management in the way this study does. These people face a life-threatening dilemma in trying to solve the problem of deforestation. They have had little success planting trees and will face serious shortages of essential items like firewood, lumber, medicines and food if the problem continues. They do not have the income to buy these goods. I hope this study will contribute to understanding the complexity of the situation, which in turn should assist NGOs and others to develop workable solutions to the problem of deforestation in this and other dry tropical forests of the Sahel.