The Community tree planting scheme is an exclusive project for Serenity Holidays customers. The aim of the project is to not only to provide carbon savings through the planting of indigenous trees in The Gambia, but also to have wider sustainable benefits especially in relation to the local communities.
Started in 2007, over 20,000 trees were planted in 5 project areas, Aboku Nature Reserve, Sifoe, Pirang, Gunjur and Kartong. In the summer 2013, a further 12,000 trees were planted in Abuko National Forest and the villages of Jenun Kunda, Sinchu, Giboro and Duwasu.
The trees are grown from transplants of indigenous trees collected as seedlings by our experienced forester Lamin Kinteh and then protected/nurtured by the local communities. Each project area helps to reforest areas which may have been affected by deforestation or over grazing in the past, as well as helping to offset carbon emissions from our customer’s flights. In most cases, they also offer community benefits to the locals who protect them. Many of the trees are specially planted to yield a crop or produce pollen to encourage bees which in turn make honey. The honey is used for food, health, medicine and beauty products offering locals an income from its sale.
Over the next 20 years, all trees will be protected through management agreements signed by the Alkalo (village head) on behalf of each community. Our experienced forester, Lamin Kinteh, will also help with maintenance and replacement of any trees damaged or lost over this period.
The carbon offset of this time will be equivalent to a minimum of 11,000 tonnes which equates to the CO2 created by around 10,000 return flights from the UK to The Gambia.
When TICOS originally set the project up in 2007 a tree planting festival was organised by Sifo Kafo Farm, one of the three sites, to mark the occasion with Mandinka drumming and dancing. 3,000 gmalina, cashew and other trees were planted in two farms belonging to the Sifo Kafo Farms. The Iman blessed the trees and all the village elders gave their full support. The whole village community attended and took part in a symbolic planting ceremony and there was a sense of pride and determination to see these trees grow to maturity.
The photographs (link) show a planting ceremony in Sifo attended by us, TICOS and the Travel Foundation and supported by the whole village. The village elders all planted a tree and TICOS also contributed to the event by planting 50 trees to help to offset recent staff flights.
Serenity Holidays sustainable tourism manager Katie Bushnell travelled to The Gambia in November 2011 with industry expert Dick Sisman to monitor how work is progressing with our carbon offset schemes.
"On our first day, we were picked up by our forester Lamin Kinteh and set off to visit our community tree planting projects. The first, Pirang, was a small village, about 45 minutes from the main tourist area and chosen for its easy access to the river water. This was our newest and smallest project, planted in 2009 and I was very interested to see the growth of the seedlings. We walked through scrubland, past local compounds and towering termite mounds until we reached our area of gmalina trees. It was fantastic to see the growth after only two years, some were about 18ft high and were filling out nicely – a sight you would never expect in the UK!
We drove to our next project, one of the first areas where trees were planted back in 2007. Set in the small village of Sifoe, the trees are a mix of gmalina and cashew. Cashew fruits and nuts can be harvested and the trees provide the perfect home for native bees. As we arrived, we were met by a number of smiling locals, telling stories of their honey production and cashew nut crops and how the profits were helping to put local children through school. The trees were so established and appreciated by the locals and were giving so much more than simply carbon benefits.
After a spot of lunch on the coast, we set off on what can only be described as off-roading to our largest project area. This was a slightly different project to the others. On our way, Lamin was explaining the background behind the project, that the trees had been planted as a buffer zone for the Abuko nature reserve. In the past, locals had destroyed much of the nature reserve in their search for wood for cooking or building. The aim of the buffer zone is to surround the damaged areas so that they can regrow to their natural glory. Some of the trees here have grown to an amazing 25 ft high and are now producing a natural fence around some of the reserve. The wildlife is already returning to the reserve and new seedlings are sprouting in the scrubland. It was wonderful to see the positive reforestation.
On the next day, we were met by our Mayan Turbo stove project manager, Mama. We have been funding the community stove project for two years. Most of our stoves had been distributed on the North Bank of the River Gambia, but they have now started becoming available on the south bank. Mama took us to a coastal village called Sanyang, where a number of stoves were already in use. When we arrived we were met by nearly the whole community coming to see what was going on. As it had just been the Muslim festival of Tobaski, all of the women were in their finest dresses and the array of colours was fantastic. I was delighted when the Gambian women started to bring out rice, lamb and vegetables – they were cooking lunch and I was invited to the feast! Burning by-products such as rice husks and peanut shells, the stoves are virtually free to use and heat up very quickly. Whilst some women were making Benachin, a spicy rice dish, others were talking to me about the benefits of the stoves compared with traditional wood burners. They were explaining that previously to collect firewood, they would need to walk nearly 14km or buy expensive bundles of imported wood. By using our turbo stoves, the women could burn waste products, thus saving energy, money and the local forests. A further benefit is that the turbo stoves produce far less smoke compared to traditional wood burning stoves.
As the trip came to its end, I was really amazed by how well both projects are progressing. We are achieving our carbon reduction goals and improving the quality of life for many locals. Having had such a wonderful insight into these worthwhile projects, I am keen to encourage staff and customers to continue to reach our long-term goals."
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