Socio Economic Issues In Niumi National Park In Gambia
The communities peripheral to and within Niumi National Park are composed primarily of subsistence farmers and fishermen, and resultantly they are dependant on natural resources for the maintenance of their livelihoods.
The wetland areas of the park are of considerable importance in these subsistence economies such as for wet season rice cultivation and dry season market gardening, provision of dry season grazing for livestock, fishing and shellfish harvesting.
Various materials are also derived from the wetland environment including mangrove poles for roofing and grasses for thatching and fence construction.
Seasonal production of early millet and groundnuts is confined to the plateau areas of the park where traditionally the crops were periodically rotated onto fresh ground in a shifting pattern. Natural vegetation was allowed to regenerate during the fallow periods, and mature trees left upon clearance for cultivation. This system has essentially broken down as the demand for land has increased and the more intensive cropping in combination with the practice of burning off crop residues prior to cultivating the land has led to a deterioration of soil fertility.
In the rain fed swamps and upper freshwater reaches of the bolons, seasonal rice cultivation is conducted using labour intensive methods, mostly by women. Some construction of earthen bunds has been conducted to either retain freshwater in the case of rain fed swamps or to prevent saline intrusion in the upper bolons. A number of villages outside of the parks utilize these wetlands with the consent of the Alkalo (Village chief) under whose jurisdiction the land falls.
Crop yields are quite variable due to rainfall patterns and husbandry techniques employed. Most rice is home consumed though invariably there is exchange through bartering and distribution among the extended family.
In the same areas utilized for rice cultivation dry season market gardening is carried out availing of the organic soils and the high water table. Hand dug wells are used for watering of tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, onions and bitter tomatoes. As with rice cultivation, the majority of people involved in horticulture are women who operate on a 13 collective and co-operative basis locally referred to as a “kafo”.
Much of the produce is sold at the local level raising a small income for the women involved, and the balance of the crops are consumed in the household thereby improving nutrition intake.
Despite the good fishing grounds within the bolons and in the inshore waters, fishing activities are primarily at the subsistence level within Niumi National Park. A few individuals from each of the villages close to the bolons are involved in gill netting on a part- time basis and fish traps are also utilized on the upper bolons towards the end of the rains as the waters are subsiding.
The catches are generally home consumed or bartered at the village level for other goods or services. On the Senegalese end of Jinack Islands, the villages of Barra and Diatako are more commercially oriented in their fishing activity which reaches the market of the larger towns.
Women are engaged in the harvesting of oysters clams and whelks in the Masarinko and Niji Bolons. The oysters are harvested from the roots of mangroves, and shellfish are collected from the mud flat during spring tides.
Again these activities are primarily at subsistence level though 14 that is not to underscore their importance in the local economy and in nutrition.
Timber and Building Materials
The timber of mangrove is valued for its resistance to insect damage and it is used primarily for cross timbers and laths in roofing. As the amount of timber available in the dry woodland diminishes through over – exploitation and excessive use of fire, it is being turned to more and more for use in the provision of fuelwood and fencing posts.
Palm fronds are used for a variety of purposes including thatching of roofs, fencing construction of “kirinting” (palisade strips used for fences, walls, ceilings etc.) and basket making. The rhun palm (Boranssus aethiopium) swamp – date palm (Phoenix reclinata) and oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) are harvested off their leaves and with increasing demand; trees are often stripped of all but a tuft of emerging fronds.
The elephant grass (Andropogon gayanus) is also harvested after reaching full maturity after the rains, when it provides stout and strong straw up to 2.5m in length. The grass is used in the construction of walls of house where it is surprisingly durable, and is also woven into 3m long sections used in fencing.
The availability of good grass straw is reducing due to the dry season increase in livestock densities which both consume and trample the grass
Within Niumi National Park sheep and goats are grazed, being let range over the bushland and on crop residues after the harvest. Small ruminants are generally grazed close to villages and are corralled within compounds overnight, cattle are corralled by tying to stakes in areas peripheral to the villages.
Livestock numbers are seasonally augmented during the dry season as cattle are brought to the coastal area to avail of the better grazing. On the island of Jinack, the number of cattle appears to double during the dry season and they are ranged over the entire island. In recognition of the impact that small stock were having on the regeneration of trees on the island the communities of Niji and Kajata have regulated the numbers of small stock.
The impact of cattle on regeneration is less obvious but there is an indication that through browsing and trampling damage to young saplings is occurring and the sensitive coastal vegetation (i.e the pioneer zone of plants on the dune fringe) is being degraded thereby exposing the stabilized dunes to erosion.
There is quite clearly a need to determine an appropriate stocking density for the various ecological zones of the park and to regulate grazing to a sustainable level.
Palm wine tapping is carried out by a small number of people around the park. As the oil palm is confined to areas with high ground water levels, the decrease in rainfall over the last 2 decades is likely to restrict the occurrence of this species. Palm wine tapping is sustainable to a certain level but excessive tapping can lead to the death of the tree.
The harvesting of wild fruits is widespread through out the park and forms an important supplement to local diets and incomes where children often sell their harvest to raise funds for school books and fees. Numerous species are harvested including Detarium senegalensis, Adansonia digitata, Acacia albida, and Saba senegalensis.
Excessive harvesting of wild fruits can lead to shortages for wild primates and other frugivorous species and in certain instances damage to the tree by unscrupulous lopping of branches to access fruits.