Thursday, May 10, 2018

We welcome the government's decision to save what's left of Monkey Park (Bijilo Forest Park)

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We welcome the decision of government to spare what's left of the Bijilo Forest Park and Trail, otherwise known locally as Monkey Park, the home of the rare and nearly extinct red colobus monkey.  The green velvet monkey also calls Monkey Park home.

In making the announcement, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of the Environment, Climate and Natural Resources blamed the previous government for redesignating this nature reserve as the site for yet another international conference center and a hotel. 

Since the dictatorship of Yaya Jammeh neither tolerated differing viewpoints nor dissent, the National Environment Agency "had to accept it unwillingly", according to the head of the environment ministry responsible for protection of the environment against an increasingly aggressive land grabbers and speculators.  It is now generally accepted that Jammeh was the foremost land grabber and a prolific speculator who did a lot of damage to the environment as well our land tenure system.  Monkey Park is only one of his many victims of his ill-conceived projects that has littered pristine landscapes across the country.

The other victim of Jammeh's ill-appraised projects is the International Trypanotolerant Center which has been embedded in the Bijilo Forest Park and Trail since it was founded in 1982 as a research center of the indigenous Ndama cattle that is resistant to the tsetse fly.  Donors have invested heavily in the project that has made significant stride in researching the Ndama cattle, to improve its milk-producing capacity.  It was Jammeh's anti-Western tirades and his constant harassment of the multi-nation team of researchers that led to the gradual withdrawal of our partners (both multi-lateral and bi-lateral) from the ITC. 

It is our view that ITC can be revived under the new government of Adama Barrow by first saving what's left of it, together with the rest of Monkey Park, so that the important international research activities can resume, preferably under the initial concept of the ITC and new the new entity.

We have recently appealed, and in person, to Sir Dawda Jawara for his intervention with the government to stop further encroachment to what forestry experts and environmentalists consider to be a delicate ecosystem.  The former president was the main driver of the ITC project that succeeded in putting together a donor list that included AfDB, EU, FAO, Ford Foundation, Belgium, Germany and many others, in a consortium that exemplified the true meaning of international cooperation.

We hope, all planned construction, except the main conference center, will cease, and all land allocations rescinded and nullified.  It may be possible that the rest of the Bijilo Park will survive the development around it even at this late stage.