Gambia: Ballabu Conservation Project in Focus

by Apr 6, 2011Wildlife News

Ballabu Conservation Project is a community-based Organization in Partnership with Eden Project in the United Kingdom.

The project has strived to established a 100% (hundred percent) community owned and operated conservation project which enables over 100,000 (one hundred thousand) of the rural people, opportune to Health Care, Education, Water Resourses, employment, and development to rural Africa. Ballabu Conservation Project started way back in 2004 through the efforts of James English and his business partner Lawrence Williams, the founders of Makasutu Culture Forest whose wisdom is to create an atmosphere that would generate something valuable to the people living in the rural area and also something that would be of significance in improving their welfare and well-being.

The duo upon conceptualising the project approached Brikama Area Council to explain their initiatives, and the council without any hesitation gave approval to the project.The project covers an area of 14 villages within Kombo East and Kombo North District,starting from Makasutu Wild Life Trust(M.W.T) headquarters at the Department of Parks and Wild Life within Abuko Nature Researse ,and and on the South East to the boundaries of Pirang National Forest Park.The 14 villages includes Lamin( rural),Daranka, Kerewan, Mandinaring, Kunkujang Jattaya, Makumbaya, Kubarko, Galowya, Kubuneh,Bafuloto, Kembujeh, Mandinaba, Tunjina/Kuloro and Bonto.

According to James English, one of the founders of Makasutu Culture Forest, the initial idea for the Ballabu Conservation Area(BAC) came frm attending series of workshops around Africa organized by World Tourism Organization(WTO), on theme of poverty alleviation through sustainable tourism,adding that they presented Makasutu Culture Forest (MCF)as a case study,and recieved tremendous amount of interest in the Project.

He pointed out that after lenghty talks with the top representative in the WTO ,they were encouraged to look at the larger picture and expand their initial ideas of protected area in benefit a greater land mass and people. From this, he said they started incorperating the villages of Lamin, Abuko Nature Reserve, and other communities up to Pirang to develop a sustainable tourism project,entitled Ballabu Conservation Project.

The result he pointed out will be economic and environmental gain to all the villges involved in the area. He also revealed that ownership of each particular part of the project will be on a village to village level and with an end result of a world class conservation/eco tourism area, incorporating agriculture, livestock, forestry and skill training ,that can become a model for development countries. Thus ,putting The Gambia at he front of sustainable/eco tourism.

Rural development tour

English further revealed that rural tours will be established to take tourist to the 14 participating villages ,highlighting the plight of traditional African village life and the impact of a swelling population on the environment.The tour will enlighten the tourist by explaining the benefits of sustainable/eco tourism from a scientific point of view,and also the reasons why this particular region of The Gambia can benefit from this intended project not just in financial sense, but also in the protection of the Mangroves,Forest and Wild Life of the area. He said they would also raise awareness among the communities on the importance of existing laws that should be enforced and sustained to enable rural development to succeed.

He however adds that this could contribute to an ongoing plan that may possibly encourage funding from various donors throughout the world, pointing out that it would also encourage the conservation committee, to establish a a rural investment fund to facilitate and develop a self generating economy in the rural sector, and enable a regional infrastructure to develop around the core industry of eco tourism, in the area of skills training,tourism(day tours and lodging) and small busineess development.

He further went on to add that, Makasutu Culture Forest with it’s sister NGO,Makasutu Wild Life Trust intends to create economic opportunities for communities living adjacent to their reserves,demonstrating that eco tourism produces rural wealth creation through small business spin off’s,emplowment and training and promoting eco tourism as a viable option for sustainable development,

Objective of the project

James English further comments on the of the objectives of the project which he said will be able to promote sustainable tourism in The Gambia by working hand in hand with the local people to protect their environment and rich cultural heritage,while at the same time allowing vesting tourist to enjoy the Gambian culture and wild life in a non-harmful way environmentally.He also adds that the forest will recover and provide a safe heaven for Monkeys,Antelopes,Crocodiles and hundreds of spicies of birds.The people he added will also have strong tiesto the land,revealing that urban drift is a real problem in the local villages as young people move to large urban conurbations to find employment,adding that these ties will preserve history and culture of the people.

How to [achieve] these objectives?

He further said that they intend to manage sustainable tourism through 85 sqare kilometers,from Abuko Nature Reserve to Pirang, parallel with one of the main rivers of the Africa, The River Gambia,pointing out that each of the 14 villages in the conservation area will have a specific part to play in the overall tourism experience-be it through agriculture,live stock,lodges,recycling or skill training.

He further went on to highlight many activities,which includes provision of eco lodges for villages situated on the river that will be community owned and run, Fruit Drying Plant for the use of greater communities,to dry and then package any spear fruit which can then be consumed during the rainy season when food is scarce and any excess after the rainy season can be sold to tourist,with the proceeds going back to the community.He also adds that,community forest parks will be for the villeges involved in the project,where indigenous hard wood trees will be planted which he said will include Mahogany, Ebony, teak, African Rose Wood that are no longer found due to deforestation, eventually turning these areas back into the paradises that they use to be, pointing out that this will encourage animals and birds to inhabit the area again, adding to the tourism experience for the guests staying in the villages.

In conclusion he said Ballabu conservation Project is a joint participation project with the surrounding communities,The National Environment Agency,Makasutu Culture Forest,and Makasutu Wild Life Trust,these three organizations he added including the government,private sector and NGO,formed the basis of the establishment of the conservation area dedicated to conser wildlife and bio diversity in The Gambia.

The creation of direct and indirect emlopment and entrepreneurial opportunities for the surrounding communities through the pooling of resources,skills and new linkages,in the area of tourism, commerce and economics, providing a balance approach to eco tourism, conservation, sustainability and local community empowerment, as well as providing visitors to the country with a unique tourism experience. Malang D.K Jambang the executive director of Makasutu Wild Life Trust all echoed similar sentiments stressing on the significance of biodiversity and the impact it can on the development.We hope to bring you more on that part in our next edition.

International Street Art Project – Wide Open Walls 2011

Lawrence Williams one of the founders of Makasutu Culture Forest has spoken extensively on the 2011 street art project Wide Open Walls,which he said is currently underway,adding that,this is the second year of this project,revealing that, it was highly successful last year. He however adds that, this year twelve acclaimed International Street Artist from South Africa, United Kingdom, The Peoples Republic of China, United States of America, Israel, Spain, Belgium, Germany as well as Gambia will be painting in a village in Ballabu Conservation Project.

The Project will run for two weeks in June. The artists paint murals on the sides of houses, walls, shops, school buildings and found objects with the permission of the residents and local communities; adding that this is a community based project. The international Street Art communities connect with local village communities to collaborate on the creation of a public gallery. “We are proud to announce Wide Open Walls 2011, we have partnered with “Write On Africa”, a community art project based in Cape Town South Africa, to inspire ourselves to inspire other to inspire change”.

Mr Williams further went on to add that,Write On Africa was founded by Ricky Lee Gordon in 2005,whom he said, has created many amazing and exciting community art projects with street art as a medium, and they are thrilled to have him on board as the creator for Wide Open Walls(WOW) 2011.He further adds that,the list of Artists who have agreed to join the project are as follows DAL (China), Hack One, Freddy Sam, Xanele (South Africa), Tika / (Berlin/Zurich/Rio), Know hope (Tel Aviv), SAM3 (Madrid), ROA(Belgium), David Walker (UK), Chris Stain (New York) and Bushdwellers (Gambia), adding that day one will start the trip off with a workshop at the local school and with the artists painting the classrooms,which he said,will hopefully inspire more like minded projects around the world. He further outline that,video documentary will be made including interviews with the villagers and record their reactions and tell their stories,adding that,last year the reception of the local people was wonderful.

The village leaders and residents engaged with each other before the artists arrived and this strengthened bonds and relationships within the communities as they met together and discuss the impact of the project on their lives,he stated. He however adds that the artists connected with the local people and experienced the lives of the residents as they worked and the local people got to share the experience of the artist forming lasting bonds,pointing out that,when the whirlwind of activity is over the result is a formally remote unheard of pocket of Africa is thrust into the limelight. N

ew communities form to follow the experience through TV documentaries, Internet blogs, art reviews and international photographic exhibitions,which he said,the people are drawn from all over the world to visit the site in person.Mr Williams also revealed that,the local communities welcome the visitors and enjoy sharing their experiences. They use the first names of the artists as if they have not only painted on their walls but been welcomed into their family.

He proudly said that tourists go out of their way to see what all the feast is about and leave profoundly moved,adding that,some are silenced as they internalise the experience and others become vocal as they openly share the experience by laughing, questioning, and debating the art, the setting and the meaning. In conclusion he said,the visitors take with them a sense of being given unique access to the village,also the art work is interactive and, unlike an austere metropolitan public gallery, the visitor can touch the wall and stand in front or underneath and be photographed.The visitors,he remarked, talk to the residents and ask them about the project,adding that,the residents recount anecdotes of shared moments with the artists and other visitor’s views.Everyone leaves the site with a feeling of being part of something bigger.