Regaining their lost paradise
Since the 1970s, the Sahel region of northern Africa has been experiencing ongoing drought. The ecological, economic and social impacts are far-reaching, and coastal and estuarine ecosystems have
not been spared. In Senegal, this has caused a “brutal and dramatic” loss of mangrove forest, and thus of the terrestrial and marine natural resources that are connected to these environments, says Abdoulaye Diamé, Executive Director of the West African Association for Marine Environment (WAAME).
The Saloum Delta, in the Fatick region in the west of Senegal, expands over 300,000 hectares, and is a zone of global economic and ecological importance. In 1980, mangroves covered almost 60% of the delta. But since then, the forest has steadily decreased, through drought impacts and over-exploitation: by 2006, this figure had dropped to around 38%.
The mangroves, which are community-owned, play a central role in local socio-economic and cultural systems. They provide timber and fuelwood, protect against coastal erosion and flooding, secure the health of fisheries, and harbour traditional remedies and sacred sites. The forests also provide a barrier against storms and coastal erosion in fragile areas. “Since our village was founded, its stability has been linked to the mangroves,” says Betenty village resident Moussa Sarr. “We often hear that the sea invades certain places because they have no barrier separating them from the ocean. If you see that the ocean waves break weakly on our shores, it is because there are mangroves here that protect us,” he explains.
Given the mangroves’ importance for so many elements of their lives, many community members were highly motivated to halt and reverse the degradation that was occurring, and “regain their lost paradise,” says Diamé. He himself grew up in the area, and always hoped to play a role in finding sustainable solutions to the forests’ decline.
In the mid-1990s, Diamé and a number of his young contemporaries from the delta founded a range of environmental and youth associations – among them, WAAME. Meanwhile, at the University of Dakar, a research team on marine and coastal issues was turning its attention to the issue of mangrove reforestation.
village was founded, its stability has been linked to the mangroves,” says Betenty village resident Moussa Sarr. “We often hear that the sea invades certain places because they have no barrier separating them from the ocean. If you see that the ocean waves break weakly on our shores, it is because there are mangroves here that protect us,” he explains.
And so it was that in 1995, in collaboration with local communities, international NGOs, aid agencies and the researchers from Dakar, WAAME initiated a campaign to restore the mangrove forests of the Saloum Delta. Since then, they’ve restored around 8,500 hectares of mangrove forest.
WAAME carries out education and training programs to ensure local communities are on board and well equipped to sustain the reforestation efforts. They
are trained in basic species biology and replanting techniques, and educated on the importance of mangrove conservation at all levels. Popular theatre, football tournaments and exchange visits between communities help to create the connections and shared motivations to make a difference for the mangrove forests in the Delta and beyond.
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This story was originally published as part of a publication titled “Communities restoring landscapes: Stories of resilience and success.” Produced for the Global Landscapes Forum by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), “Communities restoring landscapes” is a collection of 12 stories about community-led efforts to restore degraded forests and landscapes. To access the publication and other stories, click here.