The Casamance region of Senegal is one of the poorest parts of West Africa. The region has suffered a 30 year civil war- the longest running in Africa. Although there is now growing hope for a lasting peace, conflict is still rife. The major factor in tension is over the forests. Thirty years of exposure to regular episodes of sudden violence, the hidden nature of the conflict, competition for resources, and constant fear and mistrust means communities remain isolated from each other, reluctant to work together to solve the common problems that they are all facing.
Village Aid strongly believes that one of the most successful ways to simultaneously address poverty and rebuild community cohesion is for people to work together on small, community driven livelihood projects.
Village Aid is working in partnership with United Purpose and local partner ASAPID to help communities establish ‘community forests’– forests that are managed by a group of local communities to generate income through sustainable harvesting of forest products, beekeeping, tree nurseries while maintaining valuable ecosystem services by storing CO2 in the trees, helping to mitigate climate change.
A new community forest benefits the livelihoods of 1500 people. Village Aid has already helped local communities establish 14 community forests, contributing to increasing incomes of thousands of people.
This has enabled people in the region to work with their neighbouring communities to set up small co-operative businesses, and generate income from; the collection and sale of forest products, processing of forest products, collecting fallen firewood and preserving the value of forest resource.
In recent years the high-value hardwoods found in the Casamance region have attracted buyers from overseas, Rebel-controlled areas have proven a lucrative and lawless zone for forest destruction for export. One million trees have been decimated in the last 5 years alone. One Rebel faction has come out in support of the community’s efforts and banned logging in their zone of control. The other factions are yet to make these changes but a tipping point is getting close and we need to keep pushing.
Bakary Jallow lives in Kodioube village. In 2002 he was forced to flee to the neighbouring Gambia to escape rebels as they invaded his village. Having returned to Senegal recently, he received training from our partner in tree planting, nursery management and beekeeping.
He is a member of the management committee for his community forest and has seen significant changes since his community began managing their own forest. He said;
“Now there are a lot of changes but the most significant is that people’s attitudes have completely changed towards the forest because everybody (female and male) has equal rights and benefits from the forest.”