(Formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

  • Jury still out on huge mangrove regeneration project in Senegal

    Billed as the largest mangrove restoration programme in the world, a project in the Saloum Delta in western Senegal aims to undo decades of damage to a vital ecosystem, but critics say the scheme dispossesses the local community and amounts to little more than “ocean grab”.

    Climate change (lower rainfall, rising sea levels, and harsh droughts) coupled with unsustainable human exploitation has seen some 40 percent of Senegal’s mangrove cover lost since the 1970s.

    It’s a region of rich biodiversity: some 2,000 species of fish, molluscs, and crustaceans live among the roots and mud of the mangroves. For Ablaye Marone, who works as an volunteer guide and ranger in the national park that covers 76,000 of the delta’s 146,000 hectares, it’s a lot more than that.

    He told IRIN that replanting schemes are “a question of survival”.

    “We make a living only from mangroves,” he explained. “Take me for example. Aside from activities as a guard, I place beehives in the mangroves to collect honey. I make a lot of money doing this that allows me to make ends meet. If there were no more mangroves, there would be no more bees.”

    Adjarata Diouf, who also lives in Marone’s village of Bagadadji, explained how the mangroves “provide an essential source of revenue for women here”.

    “They offer ideal conditions for the reproduction of fish and shellfish. Our main economic activity is harvesting oysters, from which we make a significant revenue,” she told IRIN.

    Salt extraction and eco-tourism are also important sources of income in the mangrove areas of Senegal, where hundreds of thousands of people live amid the maze of tributaries and river islands.

    Unsustainable exploitation

    Mangrove refers both to the range of trees and shrubs that grow in tidal, coastal swamps, and to the wider ecosystem where such vegetation dominates.


    Many of the ways people make a living from the mangroves also cause irreversible damage. Some methods of collecting oysters and other molluscs involve cutting the underwater roots they cling to, while the mangrove trees’ branches are chopped down to be used as fuel for heating, cooking, and fish-smoking, as well as for construction material for houses, and to make agricultural tools and boats.


    It is not only local residents who exploit the mangroves: the riches of the forests attract citizens from other parts of Senegal as well as countries such as Niger, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau.


    Once mangroves disappear, livelihood opportunities dwindle.

    Wikimedia Commons
    Mangrove roots offer rich pickings of edible oysters

    “Before, each woman used to gather up to 10 kilos of seafood every time we went out in our boat,” said Diouf. “But now, it’s all we can do to collect five kilos. Our revenues have fallen dramatically.”


    Mangrove depletion leads freshwater courses to become salty, contaminating soil and preventing anything from growing. The resulting loss of agricultural productivity – that of rice in particular – undermines food security. The reduction of mangrove cover also leaves inland areas more exposed to erosion and Atlantic storms. Replanting mangroves is, therefore, everybody’s business.


    Giant scheme


    Because they absorb carbon at up to 10 times the rate of rainforests, mangroves are increasingly seen as a valuable, and sometimes lucrative, weapon in international efforts to mitigate climate change.

    One replanting programme in the Saloum Delta, reputedly the largest such initiative in the world, has seen 79 million trees planted and 7,920 hectares of mangrove forest restored. It is a project of Livelihoods Funds, a Paris-based “social business” bankrolled by 10 major companies including Danone, Crédit Agricole, Michelin and Hermès.

    By funding the planting of mangrove shoots, which is conducted in partnership with the Senegalese NGO Océanium, “investors receive carbon credits with high social value, which they can use to offset part of the emissions they cannot avoid”, according to the Livelihoods Funds website.

    Investors expect the 30-year carbon-crediting programme to generate half a million tonnes of carbon offsets over its lifetime. As well as counting against investors’ own emissions, they can be traded and sold to other companies or governments seeking to comply with emissions’ caps.

    The more prominent aims of this mammoth project, in which some 300,000, mostly female, residents of 350 communities have taken part, is to protect arable land from salt contamination, restore rice paddies, and replenish fish stocks by up to 18,000 additional tonnes a year.

    But Marie-Christine Cormier-Salem, a French academic who has spent 35 years studying mangrove ecosystems across the world and whose field research on the Saloum Delta was published in August, is far from convinced.

    “The charter signed between the external operators and the rural communities stipulates that for 30 years the replanted mangrove is controlled by the donors (i.e. Danone) and henceforth forbidden for any use,” she wrote.

    Local “harvesters no longer have the right to exploit the reforested areas and are [dispossessed] of their land.” Instead, residents are offered the “mere hope-promise that the densification and extension of the mangrove forest might allow their grandchildren to have access to it in an uncertain future.”

    Livelihoods Funds did not respond to IRIN’s request for comment, but Cormier-Salem’s findings are in line with broader critiques of so-called “blue-carbon” offset schemes (“blue” because they focus on CO2 stored in coastal ecosystems).

    “Increasingly, conservation efforts that purportedly align the needs of the poor, profit interests and environmental concerns are one of the main processes through which ocean grabbing takes place,” Mads Barbesgaard, a Swedish geographer, wrote in a paper published by the Transnational Institute, entitled “Blue Carbon: Ocean Grabbing in Disguise?

    “Instead of being a win-win for all actors involved, this commodification and marketisation [of blue carbon ecosystems] further entrenches power inequalities and facilitates grabbing of resources and/or expulsion of local communities.”

    Everyone joining in


    Whether they support the large-scale involvement of multinational corporations or not, the local residents of the Saloum Delta are determined to do their bit to keep their ecosystem thriving long into the future.


    Like his brother Ablaye, Mamadou Marone, a primary school teacher (and also a part-time beekeeper), has taken part in a small-scale reforestation project covering Bagadadji and three nearby villages.


    “We are aware of the effects of climate change on our lives,” he told IRIN. “When we were children, the mangrove was much bigger. It has drastically reduced. As a result, some species of fish and crustacean have disappeared.”


    The Marone brothers joined hundreds of neighbours in the project, which has added five hectares of mangrove cover around each of the four villages, 20 new hectares in total.


    “It is our duty to somehow conserve the mangrove forest, to keep it for future generations,” said Nicolas Gomis, a lieutenant in the National Parks Authority. “The local population is very pleased about the mangrove restoration projects.”


    This small-scale project was carried out in partnership with the National Parks Service, the region’s environment agency, and Wetlands International, a non-profit based in the Netherlands.


    Wetlands International has taken pains to partner with local authorities and communities, including by helping to set up a knowledge- and best practice-sharing Mangrove Platform with the county government. The multinationals are being encouraged to go further down that road.



    Jury still out on huge mangrove regeneration project in Senegal
    Part of a special project that explores the impact of climate change on the food security and livelihoods of small-scale farmers in Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and Zimbabwe
  • Success against salt: Senegalese farmers battle a major climate change threat

    Climate change makes life harder for Senegalese farmers in many different ways: shorter rainy seasons, more frequent and longer dry spells and droughts, a lower water table, floods, coastal erosion, destruction of mangroves, and disruption of fish stocks. But most pernicious of all is the salinization of soil across large tracts of coastal and riverine farmland.

    In the village of Dioffior, some 150 kilometres southeast of the Senegalese capital, Dakar, residents have mounted a protracted battle against salt: an enemy that contaminates their land, decimates their crops and, as agriculture is the mainstay of the region’s economy, drives up poverty and food insecurity.

    Rising sea levels brought about by climate change have greatly increased the salt content of the nearby Sine River. In the vast Sine-Saloum delta, between 700,000 and one million hectares of land have been affected over the last 30 years. The Fatick region, where Dioffior is located, and which is the birthplace of President Macky Sall, has suffered more than most.

    “For decades in Sine-Saloum, the soil, which used to be known for its quality and productivity, has been badly damaged by climate change, which has led to the salinization of the waterways of the delta,” explained Seydou Cissé, who works at Senegal’s National Institute of Pedology (the study of soils).

    Other problems

    Unfortunately, soil salinization is just one of several harmful effects of climate change in Senegal.

    In a thesis for his master’s degree in climate change and sustainable development, Charles Pierre Sarr, who now works for Senegal’s environment ministry, noted reduced rainfall and rising temperatures around Dioffior and predicted further decreases of rainfall of 5.4 percent and 12 percent by 2025 and 2050 respectively.

    Senegal is “perpetually confronted with the adverse effects of climate change because of its 700-kilometre coastline which is impacted by the rising level of the sea, with the corollary of coastal erosion, the saline intrusion on farmland, the salinization of water resources and the destruction of infrastructure,” Sarr wrote. “Because agriculture is primarily rain-fed, climate change risks compromising efforts to fight poverty and efforts to reach food self-sufficiency.”

    Dioffior residents say the rice fields around the village were abandoned some 30 years ago. Since then, locals have worked tirelessly, carrying endless baskets of sand and rock to build dykes that turn lost fields into arable land again. The dykes keep the salty river water at bay and protect bodies of fresh water.

    Among those involved are some 200 women, members of an association called Sakh Diam, (“sow peace” in the Wolof language) who have recovered more than 100 hectares of land. They have their eyes set on a much larger area: in 2015 the local authorities allocated them 1,000 salty hectares of farmland.

    Sakh Diam has won financial support for its endeavours not only from the government of Senegal but also from those of Belgium and Japan.

    “These rice paddies used to be tans,” Marie Sega Sarr, the group’s president, told IRIN as she worked away in her paddy, using the Wolof word for salty land.

    “Nothing grew here until the Support Project for Small Local Irrigation (PAPIL) started. The anti-salt dyke you can see over there is Baboulaye 1. Where we are now is Baboulaye 2. There is another one at [the nearby commune of] Djawanda. In all, there are nine dykes around Dioffior built to combat the salinization of our agricultural land.”

    PAPIL was set up in the early 2000s by Senegal’s government, with help from partners such as the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Islamic Development Bank.

    PAPIL ran until 2015 and has been replaced by the Multinational Programme for Resilience to Food and Nutritional Insecurity in the Sahel region. The many objectives of the programme include reclaiming thousands more hectares of salinised land in the Fatick region by 2020.

    “Our grandparents used to cultivate here and fed themselves from their crops,” said Marie. “Between the arrival of the salty waters and the irrigation project, we had trouble feeding ourselves. Agriculture is our main activity. We were forced into unemployment.”

    Sakh Diam wants it work to rejuvenate the region, allowing the community to provide for itself once again.

    “We helped gather sand and rocks to build the dykes you can see. That’s been going on for six years. You can see for yourself that wild grass is growing here,” Marie said. “If we get enough rain, we hope we can harvest on this area so as to feed our families as our ancestors did.”

    More support needed

    Sakh Diam’s secretary general Omar Faye told IRIN: “It is paying off, beginning to show results. We have started to reuse this land to grow rice. Right here, some 80 hectares have been reclaimed.”

    In the greater Dioffior area, “we harvested 30,500 tonnes of rice in 2015”, he added.

    After growing rice, Marie said the villagers plan to diversify into market gardening, growing potatoes, and peppers. “Last year, poor rains scuppered our plans for market gardens,” she said. “But we still hope we can grow vegetables here.”

    In all, almost 60 anti-salt dykes have been built across four regions of Senegal, allowing some 7,000 hectares of once-toxic land to be farmed.

    According to the AfDB, this has led to “improved food insecurity, diversified economic activity, higher incomes, less isolated regions, better protected and regenerated ecosystems and stronger communities.”

    All the more reason to keep going with such projects, urged Abdoulaye Thiam of the African Collective for Research, Action and Training, an NGO that works on land management issues in Dioffior.

    “The battle against salinised land requires a lot of money and long-term programming,” he told IRIN. “What’s also needed is to mobilise the spirit of citizenship and more systematic support from the state, especially of local associations.”


    Senegalese farmers wage protracted battle against salt
    Part of a special project that explores the impact of climate change on the food security and livelihoods of small-scale farmers in Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and Zimbabwe
  • The little shrub making a big difference in rural Senegal

    In India, its dried leaves are used as a hair conditioner; in east Africa it’s fed to livestock; Mauritanians smoke its seeds; and in rural Senegal, where it goes by the name of leydour, its medicinal uses are helping many make up for the agricultural losses brought about by climate change.

    Senna (or Cassia) italica is a deciduous perennial herb that can be harvested year-round – one of the reasons its cultivation is catching on in parts of Senegal.

    Farmers in Nioro du Rip, a department in the central Kaolack region, have traditionally grown groundnuts, millet, and maize, but recent years have seen revenue from these crops fall.

    More than 300 women in three villages in the commune of Kaymor are compensating by growing the shrub on a large scale.

    Bocar Dioum, the former head of the commune’s health department, now runs agricultural training activities in the Kaymor area.

    “Leydour, which plays a part in social mobility, has radically changed the economic and health conditions of women in Kaymor,” he told IRIN.

    “Faced with the drop in agricultural revenue due to climate change, and the high number of consultations at the health centre, we have found an answer in the revival of medicinal plants, specifically, leydour.”

    Many uses

    In Senegalese traditional medicine, the leaves, pods, and mature seeds of leydour are used to cure stomach complaints, fever, jaundice, venereal diseases, and biliousness. The plant is also prescribed as a cure for intestinal worms, while its leaves are used as a dressing for skin problems such as burns and ulcers.

    “A hectare of leydour brings in much more money than two hectares of millet or groundnuts, with much less financial investment or physical effort,” explained Cheikh Ndiaye, a local village chief.

    “Leydour leaves can be harvested every two months, whereas millet and groundnuts are seasonal,” he said. “A kilo of leydour sells for much more (1,500 CFA francs/$2.6) than all the other crops here.”

    Fatou Deme heads an association of 115 women growers in Keur Samba Die and two other villages in the Kaymor commune.

    “The consumption of this plant has noticeably improved the health of the villagers,” she explained. “We go ever less frequently to the health centre in Kaymor. The other advantage is that we sell it, and the revenue helps us meet certain needs.”

    Impact of climate change

    Agriculture, which forms the backbone of the rural economy in Senegal, has been severely affected by climate change and the situation is only expected to get worse.

    According to Ibrahima Hathie, research director at the Initiative Prospective Agricole et Rurale, a Dakar-based institute that conducts research and training in agriculture, temperatures in central Senegal are set to rise by between 1.5 and 1.75 degrees by 2050, while rainfall will decline by 20 to 30 percent.

    “Inhabitants of the Sahel region feel the effects of climate change on a daily basis. They impact food security and access to water, and degrade ecosystems,” said Souleymane Diallo, chief of staff in the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development. “So it’s important to take steps that limit the effect of climate change on agriculture and its consequences for food and nutritional security.”

    Eying new markets

    Deme told IRIN that the Keur Samba Die collective, which has 25 members, had brought in 215,000 CFA francs ($370) this year through leydour cultivation.

    “Some of this is saved in a bank account and we share out the rest among members,” she explained. “It really does provide financial help and we have an interest in keeping up the cultivation of leydour in our village,” she said, adding that she hoped to find new markets with the help of government bodies and the private sector.

    Deme’s marketing ideas include better labelling to indicate the plant’s geographical origin as well as its various benefits.

    The potential market extends well beyond Senegal: In many parts of the world, the crushed, dried leaves of the leydour plant are sold, including on major online trading platforms, as a hair-conditioning product called “natural henna”.

    And the production process doesn’t take long: Two months after planting a leydour seed, one can begin harvesting its leaves, dry them, and sell them.

    Going organic

    “We don’t use any fertiliser or chemical pesticides. Everything is organic,” said Deme, adding that oil from the neem tree is used to stop parasites attacking the shrubs.

    Growing leydour benifits the whole village, added another member of the association, Aissatou Toure. “We use it as a medicine and treat our animals with it. Now, other villages are following in our footsteps.”

    Ndeye Ndiaye Toure, who heads a growers’ association of 70 women in the village of Passy Kaymor, said cultivating the shrub had turned their lives around.

    “Of course we grew vegetables,” she said. “But we needed money to buy seeds and other inputs. But leydour requires no real financial investment. We use it as medicine and make more money. We grow it together with totally organic market garden produce. It’s a real plus for us women.”

    The dried and powdered leaves of the leydour plant are sold to herbalists for 1,500 CFA francs per kilo, of which the collective lodges 375 francs in a common kitty.

    “We manage to save 500,000 CFA francs after each harvest that we use to support the needs of our members, for religious festivals for example, or when someone has an occasional need for money,” said Toure. “What’s more, we’re able to buy groundnut seeds for our husbands who reimburse us after their harvests.”

    Impressive yields

    The men of Passy Kaymor were initially sceptical of the leydour project, recalled Kany Toure, who said that it didn’t take long for the village’s women to show they could harvest the plant’s leaves in significant quantities, even if the very first harvests only amounted to about 10 kilos.

    Yields began to take off after communal land in the village was divided into individual plots for each member of the cooperative.

    Kany Toure pointed to an added benefit: “Leydour put an end to the cutting of trees, which we used to sell to feed ourselves. Nowadays, we are standing on our own two feet.”

    She added that the annual production of dried leydour leaves could soon reach a record quantity of around 500 kilos in Passy Kaymor alone.

    The success of leydour in the area has spread to other parts of the department, and even beyond the Kaolack region, as its pioneers have lent their know-how to other parts of Senegal.

    (TOP PHOTO: A woman in the commune of Kaymor shows leaves of the leydour plant. Cissokho Lassana/IRIN)


    The little shrub making a big difference in rural Senegal
    Part of a special project that explores the impact of climate change on the food security and livelihoods of small-scale farmers in Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and Zimbabwe
  • Seeds of rural renewal sown in Senegal

    For several decades, the prospect of a better life has prompted countless inhabitants of rural parts of Africa to head to cities. In Senegal’s Fuladu region, a local initiative aimed at making agriculture more viable aims to reverse that trend. It revolves around seeds.

    A veteran of the Senegalese peasant movement now in his seventies, Lamine Biaye founded and chairs the Association Sénégalaise des Producteurs de Semences Paysannes, which uses local knowledge and trading systems to boost biodiversity through the promotion of seed production.

    Having set up projects among women’s groups in different parts of Senegal, Biaye is currently focused on Fuladu, a region in Upper Casamance. Five years ago, he moved to the Fuladu village of Djimini, where he started an educational farm that specialises on seed production and market garden techniques.

    Some 350 women from a dozen villages in the area now benefit from the farm’s training programmes.

    “The challenge is primarily economic,” he told IRIN. “Lots of money is involved [in agricultural seeds]. We know that the multinationals don’t make things easy.”

    Noting that commercial onion seeds cost between 40,000 and 50,000 CFA francs ($70 to $80) per kilo, Biaye railed against a system that prices farmers out of the market for the seeds they need to survive – a fact that demonstrates why the work of grassroots movements like his ASPSP association is so vital.

    “Producing our own seeds is essential for ensuring our food self-sufficiency,” he said, explaining that the seeds he works with are “well adapted to our soil and climate”.

    “You know one has to take climate change into account,” he added.

    The Galmi violet onion is a case in point. “Whatever the variations in the weather, it’s a variety that thrives and reaches maturity. Its yield potential is good, even when there is less water,” said Biaye, explaining that “so-called improved or hybrid” types of onion are much more demanding, requiring expensive inputs such as fertiliser and pesticide to deliver decent yields.

    Fatou Diallo, who leads women farmers in Djimini, spoke highly of ASPSP’s work.

    “This training came at the right time. We would never have thought that one day we would be able to produce our own seeds ourselves,” she said. “We’ve taken big step forwards. ASPSP removed a major thorn from our feet, because buying seeds took up a lot of our costs. Now we are better equipped to produce more onions and sell them to our neighbours who have not yet mastered the technique of producing onion seeds, which are very expensive here.”

    Biaye’s farm also produces rice seeds – rice is a staple in Senegal – which it provides to farmers in the area. Once these farmers harvest their rice crops, they return the quantity of seeds they were given to the seed bank, plus an additional 25 percent that is held for that farmer for future planting. This means that every two years, participating rice farmers have enough seeds of their own to be self-sufficient.


    Onion seeds
    Cissokho Lassana
    Seeds of success: the violet de Galmi onion is a very hardy variety

    Twice a year, Djimini now plays host to a seed fair, which draws visitors from across Senegal and even neighbouring countries.

    At these events, participants trade not only seeds but also practical tips about best farming techniques. They also serve as an opportunity to sell the produce from the market gardens and to forge ties between local associations.

    Turning the tide

    In the 1960s, 70 percent of Senegal’s population lived in rural areas. By the early 1990s that proportion had dropped to 57 percent. It has stayed at a similar level ever since.

    As in many African states, rural-urban migration in Senegal is driven largely by the poor performance of the agricultural sector, which has shown meagre growth, especially compared to the country’s booming population.

    Climate change (lower and less predictable rainfall), falling crop prices, and a resultant lack of financing for equipment and seeds all played important roles in making farming less attractive than life in the cities, despite the economic uncertainties there.

    Many rural Senegalese also traditionally migrated to The Gambia, which their country surrounds, in search of employment. But Djimini and nearby villages are witnessing an influx from both The Gambia and Senegalese cities.

    People with roots in the area have started heading back in larger numbers, often with the idea of buying plots of land so as to try their hand at agriculture.

     “I decided to come home and rely on the land. From what I’ve heard, now it’s possible to do business here. It’s better than taking pointless risks abroad,” said Abdoulaye Fofana, who came back home from Dakar, where he used to sell onions and salt.

    Issa Mballo, 23, travelled far to seek work – The Gambia then Guinea-Bissau, as well as several other areas of Senegal – before returning to his roots in Djimini in 2013.

    At the end of the last agricultural season, as well as the sorrel, gumbo, and onions grown in his family’s small market garden, he harvested 35 50-kilogram sacks of groundnuts. “It’s going well. I think I can make it here,” he told IRIN. “The soil is very fertile, which makes it suitable for several crops without having to resort to industrial fertiliser and industrial pesticides.”

    The chief of Djimini village, Oumar Sylla, said the recent training of local women in organic farming techniques had brought significant benefits.

    “Before, our wives went to the market in [the nearby town of] Velingara to buy various foods. Those days are over, and the credit goes to our guests,” he said.

    He added that the proof that his village is on the up and up lies in the growing number of requests for land over recent years – requests that can’t all be satisfied.

    Sylla’s wife was so won over by Diaye that she gave him a parcel of land big enough for his home and his educational farm.

    Digging deep

    Challenges, however, remain. And the effects of climate change make things worse, as do human reactions to them.

    Djimini comes from the Mandingo word for “where one digs water”. Older residents of the village speak of a time when residents of nearby Velingara used to come here because the water was so plentiful and sweet.

    But the water table here is much lower than it used to be. One has to dig to a depth of around 50 metres before a well starts to fill up.

    As drought grew more common, from the 1970s onward, so cultivating crops became more difficult.

    In an effort to make ends meet, many farmers turned to illegal tree-cutting, either to produce wood for carpentry or to make charcoal, an activity that often led to bush fires, further reducing forest cover and decimating local fauna that played a key role in the local ecosystem.

    Attitudes are changing, and village committees work to protect the forest. At Biaye’s instigation, “we tell our husbands about the harmful effects of deforestation,” said the head of one women’s group. “And I think this is bearing fruit.”

    Success breeds success.

    Motorised pumps are now used to irrigate the proliferation of market gardens in and around Djimini, which now yield more than their growers can eat. The surplus is sold in Velingara, where people can now rave about the food from Djimini as well as the water.

    (TOP PHOTO: The village of Djimini is enjoying a new lease of life thanks to recent agricultural projects aimed at boosting self sufficiency. Cissokho Lassana/IRIN)


    Seeds of rural renewal sown in Senegal
    Part of a special project that explores the impact of climate change on the food security and livelihoods of small-scale farmers in Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and Zimbabwe

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