We invite you to read the below testimony of Marjolaine, who recently visited the Ecoparc.
We also invite you to watch “Le trésor du Sénégal” on coming Friday 17th November at 19:30 GMT on the French TV France 3 programme “Thalassa“; a documentary film about the Casamance and the Ecoparc in particular.
Your support to Augustin's project will be a big boost to set up an Ecological path within the Casmance Ecoparc!
Testimony of Marjolaine:
I visited Casamance, some weeks ago, invited by Ecofund and Augustin Diatta under the Ecopark Casamance initiative. Early July is the time to enjoy nature at its best in Ecopark Casamance ... It is similar to an excursion in the Amazonian rainforest (photo) for anyone living in Dakar, with its non-existent vegetation, especially towards the end of the dry season.
It has been years since I walked in the forest, forgetting its smells and special sounds - music to the ears if we tune into it and take in its sights and tastes. I and the children watched big ants bearing a wide leave, observing earthworms, lizards, and spiders ... an array of animals live in the forest. No need to watch “Fourmiz” in cinema when it can be seen live here! I luckily spotted a monitor lizard and a pig, each at ease in the semi-savage environment. On the culinary side, one can, abundantly, enjoy mangoes and madds (saba senegalensis). I tested local fruits hitherto unknown to me such as ‘effoufe’ (photo), ‘somp’ and tol.
During the visit, our guides from the APES association, Augustin and Jean Michel, showed us plants and trees with many medicinal properties: a chewable leave, a bark to brew etc. Here and there, one can find the Adansonia digitata, the baobab fruit nicknamed "imodium” a local opioid drug against diarrhea, and the precious carapa nuts (photo), which produce oil as prodigious, expensive and popular as any branded oil.
We choose a 45 to 90 minutes trail, but took our time! After all, time is relative in a forest. So, we walked at our own pace, discovering the many wonders of this forest. For example, I've never seen so many termite mounds before (photo); they were almost everywhere. I also didn’t know termites could be found high up on branches, are very greedy, even gnawing at some signposts along the trail. They had also eaten up the wooden seats at the rest-spot near the big sacred baobab tree! We talked at each stop about the fauna and flora, local traditions as well as economic activities of the local population.
Can you distinguish a palm tree from a palmyra tree or from a coconut tree, in the absence of the coconut? Otherwise the game becomes easy. For the uninitiated, it is easy to mix up the trees with similar long thin trunks even though the leaves are different. It is worth stating that the trees also look different depending on whether they are tapped or not. Augustin explained that all parts of the palmyra tree have a use: the trunk, roots, branches, leaves, sap etc. Does a more useful tree exist? Therefore, should it not be recognized and better-preserved?
I was also interested in cashews. There were many on the ground because no one picked the fruits. And yet, they are profitable – the nuts of course, to be snacked on as appetizer. The juice can be collected by pressing the apple, yielding abundant and sweet juice. I know that on the other side of the border, in Guinea Bissau, factories transform and bottle it for sale. In Casamance, the quantity is probably insufficient for commercialization purposes. In addition, the forest has other products to offer.
Further on the trail, Augustin showed us clearings being reforested; large areas “cleared" by slash and burn technique. The trees, with the exception of the biggest ones, were reduced to ashes, with those still standing becoming stronger (photo). This summer, new plants will be planted, an improved species of palm trees from Cote d’Ivoire, eucalyptus, mango and lemon trees. The aim is to re-introduce noble species among lianas, which make up most of the forest vegetation. A doctorate student will also be conducting research on madds, while observing plant yields based on specific environments.
Augustin never imagined that this forest could lend itself to research, but surely his dream of protecting and promoting the forest’s rich resources has indeed become reality. Thirty-two hectares of forest land have been preserved by his association, the Association for the Protection of the Environment in Senegal (APES), with the support from Ecofund Community. During my visit, I covered just a small area of the forest, reason for me to want to go back. Good news awaits the pupils and students, who regularly go on field visits to the Ecopark. A few weeks from now, the renovation of the Ecolodge (photo) will be completed, and it can then welcome groups wishing to extend their stay to enjoy the thousand and one attractions in the forest.