Passkot market in Senegal: aid projects aim to help through reforestation and the provision of money or vouchers so families don't have to sell their animals. Photo: Jenny Mattews

By Paul Cullen
15 April 2013

(Irish Times) – At first viewing here in the remote interior of Senegal, there are just three problems with the Great Green Wall, sub-Saharan Africa’s attempt to stop the continuing advance of the Sahara in its tracks. It isn’t great. It isn’t green. And for now, it doesn’t amount to much of a wall capable of blocking the desert.

Far from tarmacadamed roads and power supply lines, the “wall” here is made up of a few lines of fragile mango trees, wilting sadly in the overpowering mid-afternoon heat. A wicker fence, erected to keep out animals, straggles erratically into the horizon, while a group of women sort through the tomatoes they’ve just picked under the shade of a solitary tree.

The idea is to create a wall of trees to stop the advance of the Sahara, stretching from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east. Nearly 15km (nine miles) wide and almost 8,000km (5,000 miles) long, the “wall” would slow soil erosion and wind speeds, and help rain filter into the ground, thereby halting the desert’s growth.

The plan is at least a decade old, but progress has been slow. Here in Louga, although the wall doesn’t live up to its advance billing, there are signs of progress. Irrigation tubes peep out from under the sandy soil. Along the belt, a variety of trees has been planted – orange, guava, tamarind. The women are working small parcels of irrigated, fenced land arranged mosaic-like on this pancake-flat terrain in order to allow foraging animals to pass through.

In other words, it’s a start. Climate change has at times inconvenienced people in the West. But here in West Africa, rising temperatures, erratic rains, and rising sea levels have laid waste large tracts of agricultural land. Crops won’t grow, pastoralists have to drive their animals ever further in search of water and the exodus to towns is inexorable.

It can’t go on like this. A nomad’s life is predicated on the existence – somewhere – of clean water and firewood, but even this is in doubt as the region turns into a dustbowl. This EU-funded project provides a way of injecting resources and support mechanisms into communities living on the edge of sustainability – through reforestation and the provision of cash or vouchers so families don’t have to sell their animals. The vegetable garden we have seen allows women to earn money independently at the market.

The buzzword is “resilience”. The new approaches all aim to increase the capacity of communities to survive the uncertainties caused by climate change. In the village of Sare Boubou, the locals are being funded to build small dams to counter soil erosion caused by flash flooding.

Heavy rains have seen deep ravines cut into the dirt tracks that connect the village to the outside world, and the small banks of stones are designed to reverse this process.

“If this goes on, the village will have to move,” explains village head Bobo Diallo. No road means no access to market and no chance to earn income for the lean times, he says.

Nearby, at Sinthiou Malem, the EU is funding a village cereal bank designed to store farmers’ surplus produce. The bank means families don’t have to sell their output at harvest time, when prices are low, and can choose when to sell according to need. When the weather misbehaves and yields are low, they can dip into their reserves to tide families through the lean season.

International agencies are employing new techniques to make their aid more effective, and more in tune with needs. [more]

Struggling to force the Sahara back as climate change wreaks havoc in Senegal


  1. Dylann Andre said...

    This is so sad news. This is one of the places that is mostly affected by climate change.  


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