In line with the strategic policy objectives of Pillar- one of the Agenda for Prosperity, which focuses on sustainable ecotourism development in the tourism industry, Island Aid Sierra Leone and Planning Green Futures Charitable Trust, UK with support from Baobab Trust, UK decided to embark on Island ecotourism development project on Tasso Island, which in the long run would be extended to the other islands (Bonthe, Tiwai, Turtle, Plantain and the Ramsar Sites), as islands being the drivers for sustainable tourism development.
To actualize such a novel initiative, and with the support from Baobab Trust UK, an ecotourism camp that accommodates over twenty guests per night, was built on Tasso Island, under the Tasso Ecotourism Project, which official opening held on Friday 24th March 2017. The occasion attracted representatives from International partners, United Kingdom, International and local NGOs, like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Wetland International, Sierra Leone Conservation Society; MDAs, National Protected Area Authority, Monument and Relics Commission, Environmental Protection Agency, Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, National Tourist Board, Air Travel agencies, Travel Sierra Leone, Radisson Blu Travel, Island Community stakeholders, Cultural and traditional heads, Tasso Island Community Trust, Island Aid and representatives from the sister islands along the Ramsar sites of the Sierra Leone River Estuary. The event was climaxed by Sierra Leonean and British cultural performances that gave the unique richness of island cultural diversity.
This project is however a community-based eco-tourism development on Tasso Island, in the Sierra Leone River Estuary. It is supported by an international charitable organisation, the Baobab Trust, UK, working in partnership with Island Aid Sierra Leone.
The concept, project design and management leadership is provided by Planning Green Futures International (UK) which has a local office in Freetown (PGF-SL Ltd) established in 2012. This company prepared the Government’s new Eco-Tourism Policy (currently being promoted by the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs); and Tasso Island is the first area to benefit directly from the policy. And it is therefore expected that the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural with other line MDAs will support this project to positively impact the lives of the Island communities on Tasso Island and the sister islands along the Ramsar sites; and also provide peculiar healthy environment and hospitality for both national and international visiting tourists.
The occasion was fully attended by people in the Tasso Island community and Sister islands along the Rokel and Bankasoka rivers who saw the project as a relief of their economic and social burden, being abandoned and deprived locations of the basic social amenities even thought with the rich biodiversity potentials in the islands that can transform their lives livelihood.
The ceremony was chaired by Mr. Harry Mustapha, Island development consultant who has varied experience in community development and project design. He gave an overview of the event and talked on Island resilience as a drive for sustainable ecotourism development; he also re-echoed that for the project to succeed, every effort must be made by the Tasso Island community, international developments agencies and government through its line MDAs to support the programme, which objective was development oriented against the ills of economic disillusionment and island myth.
Mr. Dura Koroma, Executive Director, Island Sierra Leone and Board Director, Tasso Ecotourism project, in line with Mr. Mustapha's view, also gave a cursory remark on the policy objective of the project, which he said came about as a result of clarion call by the president, Dr Ernest Bai Koroma, to promote tourism development in the country; and that Tasso ecotourism Project (TEP) could be seen as a demonstration case for Pillars one of the agenda for prosperity, which he said escalated the initiative of sustainable tourism development; and islands being key support drivers to actualize such an objective.
To register their support for the project, representatives from the line MDAs, Viz, Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Ms Isatu Rogers made her contributions on effective island fisheries management that could promote ecotourism development, which seen as community based; Mr. Smith, EPA also talked on environmental health and biodiversity protection, which he said would provide a safe haven for touristic attraction and ecotourism development;this was also reiterated by Dr. Sheku Kamara, Sierra Leone Conservation Society who was accompanied by Mr. Andy from the Royal Society for the Protection of the Birds (RSPB). He made reference to his organization’s strategic policy objectives on environmental management, conservation of nature and preservation of life, which have hugely created proactive and innovative solutions to wetland conservation, which task he said could not be done in isolation but by collective responsibility and total commitment to create a healthy environment, as safe haven to attract ecotourism development in the islands. He however assured Island Aid, Baobab Trust and the Tasso island community of his support in enhancing the intended goals and vision of the project.
He elaborated on wildlife and biodiversityprotection, which can ensure a resilient island and healthy environment for tourist attractions; he also emphasized on the need for community participation with genuine commitment for the project to be a success. Other speakers included representatives from Monument and Relics Commission, Visit Sierra Leone, Radisson Blu, Environmental protection Agency (EPA) and island community representatives from Tasso Island Community Trust, Kakim Island, Pepel Island;and Community Women Coalition on Island development and friends of Island.
Key community stakeholders, Mr. Alhaji M S Kargbo and Mohamed Margai informed the Tasso Island community that the ecotourism project in the island was an opportunity they should consider as their baby that needed domestic and development orientations;and lay the foundation for its sustainability as a going concern, which benefit could also be enjoyed even by posterity.
Also a key community women’s activist, Mamusu Kabia, re-echoed the role of women in promoting island ecotourism development, especially in the areas of culture, weaving, arts and craft and micro farming, which could provide a market outlet to supply food items,local wooden carvings and others to the project.Also, Madam Fatmata J.S from Pepel admonished the islanders that this project came to stay and to transform the lives of the islanders in not only Tasso island but also the other sister islands; and that from every indication, Baobab Trust, UK intended to expand its development portfolios to other areas like Tiwai and Bonthe islands.
The occasion was both a launch and celebration, climaxed by cultural and traditional performances; children sports meet, boat race between the UK oarsmen and the islanders. The events really gave a unique picture of cultural mix (British and Sierra Leone islanders) and social jamboree of varied events that insatiably enticed the guests. It was a smash and blast; an enticing event, which social nectar provided an unlimited receptive hospitality.
The launch really promoted the Pillar one objective of the agenda for prosperity, especially in the area of Island ecotourism development, which was seen to create a systematic progressive growth impact in the tourism industry and the economy as a whole, which will also have a related impact of the growth rate of the economy and gross domestic product.
It is therefore expected that the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs and other related line MDAs that promote sustainable tourism development, environmental health and biodiversity protection will support the project; that even the travel agencies and hotel managements also have to embrace this initiative for mutual benefit that can strengthen guarantee the sustainable futurity of the tourism industry,to positively impact on the economy.
The Tasso Community Stakeholders, with specific reference to the Chiefs, Pa Alimamy Kanu and Pa Komrabai Turay, Oku Town, Tasso Island, who expressed a surge of appreciation for the pioneering effort of Island Aid, to have the project implemented on Tasso Island; and also for the proactive intervention of Planning Green Futures with support from Baobab Trust, UK to launch the project, which affirmed their commitment to transform the social and economic priorities of the island, in the areas of ecotourism development, community infrastructure development, social and economic needs gap intervention and others.
Mr. Peter Nelson, Chairman Baobab Trust, UK and Managing Director, Planning Green Futures Charitable Trust, UK, who designed and developed this project with support from Island Aid Sierra Leone, re-affirmed his commitment on same, island ecotourism development and environmental health, which Tasso Island happened to be the first beneficiary; and that with the potential economic viability expected in the implementation of the project, the Tasso island community would benefit immensely.He however noted that Tasso Island is a unique environment that is strategically located, at close proximity to Bunce Island; and with historic value and importance as far back as the colonial day of the slave trade, used to be a transit depot for slaves ready to be conveyed to Europe, America and Caribbean but however neglected and deprived of the basic social facilities; and this project would at least address the island’s social and economic problems with collaborative partnership and genuine commitment of purpose to create a change. He also noted that the ecotourism project was just the beginning of his organisation’s and international partners’ development Agenda for the island; other focus areas on intervention included Mango factory, Rain water harvest and infrastructure development.
He reminiscenced the islanders and other key stakeholders about the long delay in the manifestation of their dreams, which have now come to pass, which an opportunity could cushion their economic and social burden, as the project had provided employment opportunities for the youths; and the income earned could ameliorate the social and economic lives and also other people within the island. He also said that the eco-camp could provide accommodation for up to 30 resident visitors, set in forest above a sand beach on the southern shore of the Island; and that Day visitors from Freetown would be able to enjoy its facilities and a 60 seat restaurant, which would offer local cuisine and seafood prepared to international standards by specially trained staff from the island. He also mentioned that the camp would rely on solar power, rainwater harvesting and compost toilets in order to minimize all environmental impacts and that Visitors would be transported to the camp in a purpose-built 30 seater sea-going canoe, the “GLADI-GLADI” named to celebrate the Country’s recovery from Ebola, to commemorate those who gave their lives and to mark a new beginning for the Island, which is part of the City of Freetown and one of its most neglected and impoverished quarters.
Highlighting the direction of the project by various speakers and the possible short and long term interventions by both Island Aid and Planning Green Futures with support from Baobab Trust, the occasion was officially opened by Mr. Umaru Woody, Project and Development Officer, National Trust Board followed by the typical traditional dedication done by the Tasso Island Chiefs, Pa Alimamy Kanu, Pa Komrabai and Ya Posseh Kamara.
Mr. Umaru Woody lauded the effort of Planning Green Trust and Island Aid Sierra Leone for the progressive pace in their development strives, which he said seemed very spectacular, regarding the emerging and inherent challenges; and also noted that his organisation, the statutory body promoting and marketing the tourism industry would support the project with the necessary technical and professional needs.
Mr. Peter Nelson, in response to the various speakers, re-affirmed the project’s commitment and effective/standard service delivery facilities to be provided to guests/tourist; and that they would have regular trips or excursion or expedition to Bunce Island and Pulunmant on Tasso, where the ancestors of perhaps as many as 15% of today’s Americans were incarcerated in British forts during the slave trade; other exciting opportunities would be cultural exchanges, canoe rides through mangrove forest, walking tours, travel to Gola Forest, Turtle and Sherbro Islands, the Loma Mountain and other attractions around the country.
In registering the commitment of the Freetown City Council and the Central Government, the Councillor Constituency 97, Ward 348, Mr. Abu Bakarr Kamara reiterated with great emphasis on the priorities of the government on tourism development as pillar one of the agenda for prosperity, especially on Tasso Island, which he said was a virgin area to tap the richness of nature that could accelerate the growth machinery of the economy; that would provide alternative domestic income to cushion major capital outlays undertaken by the council or the government as the case may.
He also pointed out that the location of the project was not outside his administrative purview as a councillor, and that what he had seen would be conveyed to the authorities for necessary supportive interventions that would sustain the project; and that the absence of the other key government officials was not deliberate; it was as a result of the fact that the date of the occasion coincided with that of the National Youth Conference on Port Loko, which attracted national attention within the political circle.
Mr. Abu Bakarr Kamara also admonished the islanders with specific reference to the key community stakeholders whose decision and actions,he said determined their social and economic prosperity, and which must be taken with genuine commitment and patriotic interest. He emphatically reiterated that the project would hugely benefit the Tasso island community, which needed to be given the required support; and that with maximum level of sincerity, commitment and dedication, it would attract other development corridors, to address other key needs like Youth and Empowerment Skills Training, Agricultural development, improved fishing activities and Island Cooperative Societies.
Mr. Harry Mustapha, commended Mr. Peter Nelson and Island Aid Sierra Leone for this novel initiative of island ecotourism development, will create in social and economic lives in the island. He noted that the chalets that shall accommodate guests/tourists have standard facilities, hygienically suitable with receptive hospitality; and the restaurants would provide visitors with varied delicious African and continental dishes.
The Project Manager, Ms Patience Davies who has varied experience in hotel and restaurant management vowed to provide guests and visiting tourist with splendid hospitality, viz, accommodation and daily meal and refreshment.
In making a closing remark, Mr. Peter Nelson assured the Tasso Community that the project would be implemented in line with the proviso of the terms and conditions of the agreement/Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which would be respected to the fullest. This was followed by cultural performance, musical concert and celebrations that showed a sign of appreciation. Notwithstanding the inherent challenges, the occasion was however a success, as the intended purpose was achieved; and the Chief, Pa Komrabai Turay called on the government through the line MDAs to support the Island’s development agenda.
Island Aid Sierra Leone