How to reduce bush fires:
Creation of a green belt
around the forest perimeter

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Region West Africa
Capital Banjul
Surface area 11,295 km2
Population 1,556,000 inhab
Population density 138 inhab./km2
Infant mortality rate (per thousand births) 77
Fertility rate (births per woman) 4.8
Population growth rate (per annum) 2.8 %
Life expectancy (female-male) 57 – 54 years
Average temperatures (min./max.) 19.9 / 32.0 ºC
Forest area 48 %


Gambia is one of the poorest and most densely populated countries in Africa. Situated in the Sahelian region of West Africa, it is characterized by a Sudano-sahelian climate. Since the late 1960s, Gambia has been subject to severe devastating drought, the worst being the drought of 1968-74.

Gambia has a predominantly agricultural based economy with an estimated 72% of the population directly engaged in agricultural activities. The agricultural system of extensive cropping is widespread and includes massive clearings and deforestation since productivity depends on the agricultural land available. The deforestation rate in Gambia is 6% per year. In addition to deforestation, the country suffers serious land degradation caused by cattle. Ill-adapted agricultural practices such as continuous cropping without the use of natural fertilizers and the application of bush fires have left their mark on the environment with disastrous consequences.

1. Bush fires can spread dangerously. They are often
started by hunters and can easily become uncontrollable.
© Yann Arthus-Bertrand / Earth from Above / UNESCO

Community forestry

The Forestry Department of Gambia has developed a community forestry programme that operates on an exchange system of ownership rights, from a model managed solely by the government to a system of community and forest authorities management. In fact, the rural communities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are directly involved in forest protection. The objective of community forestry is to meet the needs of the growing population in a way that is sustainable by making forest products available to them, ranging from fruits, grains and medicinal plants to wood for energy and construction. In particular, the community forestry policy aims to protect forest resources by supervising bush fires, controlling the harvesting of forest products and preventing illegal tree felling.

Community forestry also intends to combat the effects of drought. Environmental rehabilitation measures have been taken, such as planting trees, agro-forestry and introducting certain forest crops without the need to cut down trees. Furthermore, the programme is designed to provide sufficient fodder for cattle, through forest products, so that overgrazing at the forest borders will be reduced or entirely eliminated.
The government also provides technical assistance in the form of forest management with demonstration activities, training courses and advisory services in keeping with the community forestry concept.

badCauses and effects of deforestation

In Gambia, deforestation is mainly a consequence of bush fires and the illegal logging of trees.
Bush fires have a variety of origins. For example, beekeepers traditionally use fire and smoke to harvest honey, but this sometimes leads to forest fires and vegetation loss. Bush fires are often used to facilitate hunting, since animals are more visible in a treeless landscape. Finally, slash and burn techniques are applied on the edge of forests. It is easy to lose control of these fires that significantly destroy vegetation and the landscape. In addition, cigarettes that are carelessly discarded in the forest can start fires (picture 1.).

Trees are extensively felled for firewood for commercial and domestic heating or as a raw material for the construction of fences, roofs and boats. Trees are also burned to produce charcoal for heating, even though the practice has been legally banned in the country since 1980. Forests are cleared for the extension or establishment of villages and cities. Livestock breeding or rearing often calls for bush clearings and the cattle are often allowed to overgraze on marginal forested areas. Certain forest zones are cleared for mining and extraction of sand and gravel.

2. The most widespread agricultural system in Gambia is extensive cropping, which explains the massive clearings and deforestation.
© Rex Keating UNESCO

The resulting effects of deforestation are soil erosion and land degradation, characterized by the deterioration of soil properties, the structure and the texture of the soil are modified, which results in stretches of hard clay and very sandy soils. In Gambia, 43%
of the total land area is classified as forest. However, 78% of this forest has been degraded. The vegetation cover has been destroyed and the soil is desiccated. Poverty, malnutrition and disease have increased due to the lack of natural resources.

3. The green belt is composed of three
rows of trees on a deforested strip.
© Kebba Bojang UNESCO

goodPossible solutions

In Gambia, attempts are being made to resolve the problems related to desertification through an integrated approach of co-operation between different institutions. NGOs have elaborated a programme in partnership with government authorities. These institutions support the Forestry Department and its programme to combat desertification.
The programme’s objective is to protect the forest from the annual cycles of fire, and on a national scale, to reduce illegal tree felling and to control the irrational exploitation of forest resources. Certain aspects of the programme contain an educational component.
This case study is centred on the establishment of a community forest programme of the Forestry Department and on the creation of the green belt.

bladThe green belt

In the initial phase of the programme, interested local communities were made aware of the concept of community forestry. This enabled them to organize a committee to represent, prepare and implement their own forestry management plans.
In the implementation phase of the programme, the community created a green belt (composed of trees) around the forest to protect it from fire (picture 3.). This green belt is created by felling trees within a strip of 20 metres around the forest, except in forest borders that are naturally protected by rivers and hills. On the deforested strip, at least three rows of trees are planted. The planted species are Gmelina arborea, Anarcadium occidentale and Cassia spp. They are fire resistant and grow rapidly.

Mature trees form a thick crown of vegetation that prevents grasses from growing and protects the interior of the forest from fires. These areas increasingly represent an economic and social value for the communities.
An evaluation report showed that the community forests did not experience bush fires or illegal activities for at least three consecutive years. The communities benefited from 85% of forest revenues and from the domestic use of the harvested wood. The Forestry Department receives 15% of forest revenues, which is then reinvested through the National Forestry Fund.

4. The Gambian economy is dependant on agriculture.
72% of the population is directly involved in agricultural activities.
© Rex Keating UNESCO


The Community Forestry Programme brings technical support to the institutions involved in natural resource conservation and their sustainable use.

  • A revision of the Forestry Law of 1998 enabled communities to take action on any forest destruction observed in community forests.
  • Associations were established to promote community participation on forest management.
  • Profitable use of forestry resources is encouraged and their value has increased.
  • More importantly, the concept of community forestry introduces the notion of forest ownership and of community resource management.

The activities of the Community Forestry Programme are organized by the Forestry Department and by the German government, which offers technical and financial assistance (a forestry project between Germany and Gambia). Furthermore, the forestry projects undertaken in the river basin of the central shore and the high basin area of Gambia are engaged in the Community Forest Programme.

This case study was proposed by Mr Kebba Bojang
For more information, please contact him at the following address:

Mr Kebba Bojang
Secretary General
Forestry Department
Community Forestry Unit
5 Muammar Al-Gaddaffi Avenue

Tel. (+220) 228056
Fax (+220) 229701



The teacher explains
the green belt system
to the class.


Imagine creating a green belt surrounding a wood or a forest in
your region. Where would you begin? Which species would you plant? Discuss this with your classmates.


Learn to locate Gambia on the world map. Is your country located on the same continent as Gambia? What characterizes the climate of Gambia compared to your country? Are the problems in Gambia the same as those found in your region?
What are the differences?
What are the similarities?


Have you already seen bush fires or forest fires in your region? How did they start? How can you avoid them?


In your desertification notebook, draw a diagram of
a forest surrounded by a green belt that stops fire.
(See picture.3).


What do you think of the idea to create a green belt around the forest to protect it from fire?


Tick the correct answers
from the following:

In Gambia, bush fires are started by:
• poachers.
• cigarettes.
• campers.
• lightning.
• beekeepers.
• local farmers.
• animals.


Draw a bush fire with animals that cannot hide from the burning trees. Explain what you have drawn.

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