Carbon offset in action!
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."