Ballabu Conservation Project, a community-based organization, in partnership with Eden Project in the United Kingdom, has strived to establish a 100% community-owned and -operated conservation project which will enable over 100,000 rural people to have access to health care, education, water resourses, and emplopment in rural Africa.
Ballabu Conservation Project started 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 and of significance to improving the welfare of the community.
The project in The Gambia 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 to as far as Pirang National Forest Park.
Eden Project UK has gardens for life project in a number of schools within the area. Makasutu Wild Life Trust, an NGO, is spearheading the project founded by Makasutu Culture Forest.
According to James English, one of the founders of Makasutu Culture Forest, the idea of Ballabu Conservation Area came in 2004 after attending series of workshops around Africa organised by the World Tourism Organization(WTO).
He said they presented Makasutu Culture Forest (MCF) as a case study, and got a lot of interest for the project, saying after proper and long discussions with top representatives of the WTO, they were encouraged to look at the larger picture and expand their initial ideas of protecting areas of visibility.
The result he pointed out was for economic and environmental gain to all the villges involved in the area, adding 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 and eco-tourism.
The project, he says, also looks at incorporating agriculture,livestock,forestry and skills training, that could become a model for developing countries and put The Gambia at the front of sustainable eco-tourism.
Mr English said that rural tours would be established to take tourists to the 14 participating villages , highlighting the plight of traditional African village life and the impact of a swelling population on the environment.
He said: ”The tour will enlighten the tourists 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 project not just in financial sense, but also in the protection of the mangroves, forest and wild life of the area.”
This could contribute to an ongoing plan that may possibly encourage funding from various donors throughout the world, Mr English says, adding that it would also encourage the conservation committee to establish a rural investment fund to facilitate and develop a self-generating economy in the rural area, enabling a regional infrastructure to develop around the core industry of eco-tourism in skills training, tourism (day tours and lodging) and small busineess development.
Malang D.K Jambang, executive director of Makasutu Wild Life Trust, also echoed similar sentiments, stressing the significance of biodiversity and its impact on the socio-economic development.
Lawrence Williams, one of the founders of Makasutu Cultural Forest, says the 2011 Street Art Project-Wide Open Walls, which is currently underway, will this year feature twelve acclaimed International Street Artists from South Africa, the United Kingdom, the Peoples Republic of China, the United States of America, Israel, Spain, Belgium, Germany and The Gambia, each of whom will be painting in a village in a Ballabu Conservation Project.
”The Project will run for two weeks in June. The artists will paint murals on the sides of houses, walls, shops, school buildings and found objects with the permission of the residents and local communities,” he said.
‘We are proud to announce that for the 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 others to inspire change.”
A video documentary, he said, will be made including interviews with villagers, with their recorded reactions and stories, reminiscing last year’s reception which was ”wonderful”.