The concept of the Ballabu Conservation Project is to create an 85sq kilometre conservation area, incorporating 14 Gambian villages. Each village will have a community forest park established, as well as some form of industry such as eco lodges, recycling plants, skill training centres, agriculture or livestock. The forest parks will also deliberately link up to create a wildlife corridor to allow the safe passage of animals through the villages.
The aim of the project is to alleviate poverty for the local people by making each village self-sustaining. These projects will be 100 percent community owned with the profits going into community development projects in the form of water resources, education, healthcare and renewable energy. Still at an early stage, the focus is currently on funding, but it is hoped that community tours through the area will be offered from November 07 to highlight the plight of rural Gambia to visitors to the country.
The two UK founders of Makasutu, Lawrence Williams and James English, are the brains behind the project and are strengthening support and partnerships for the scheme both in The Gambia and overseas. The Eden Project is an educational charity in Cornwall and is home to the world's largest rainforest in captivity. Recently Don Murray, curator of the Rainforest Biome, visited Makasutu and attended the inaugural meeting of the Ballabu Conservation Area.
Don Murray said:
"Visiting the surrounding villages and seeing for myself the support Makasutu has from the village Elders and District Chief has been fantastic. It really brings home that the 21st century demands the very best from us all as we try and tackle climate change, drought, poverty and many other issues. There is nothing more positive than seeing the Ballabu initiative coming together and visualising the positive effects it could have on the villages - it gives me real hope."
Through the Eden Project's relationships with similar projects from around the world it will offer guidance to the Ballabu Conservation Project specifically on areas to do with conservation, reforestation, social enterprise and will also highlight the work of Ballabu through an exciting exhibit within the Rainforest Biome.
The Mandina Lodges at Makasutu (Makasutu meaning holy forest) are themselves situated on a private 1,000-acre reserve located on a small bolong / tributary off the River Gambia, which Lawrence and James have protected and developed since 1992. Holidaymakers visiting Makasutu can choose to stay in one of their three Jungle Lodges (third jungle lodge very recently completed), four Floating Lodges or one Stilted Lodge. The lodges and river were featured on the front cover of the June 2006 edition of the Bradt guide to The Gambia