Sustainable in Senegal: Profiles in Senegalese Regenerative Agriculture
Seydou Diémé, soil conservationist, Thiès

Women often provide the most hands when rural communities construct stone erosion barriers to conserve and restore adequate soil moisture for sustainable cropping.

By Nathan C. McClintock

Where we are:

Best site for finding detailed maps of Senegal: Multimap.com

Learn Wolof Vocabulary relating to Vegetables and Food


Where we've been:

A rich slice of sustainability in Senegal:
The Rodale Institute® showed this American agriculture student the critical need for soil innovative soil saving practices in West Africa.

 

December 8, 2005: On the barren slopes of the village of Kissane, about 6 miles southwest of Thiès in central western Senegal, long lines of reddish-orange rocks snake along the contours of the landscape. A group of about 40 farmers, men and women alike, take a break from their work of digging shallow trenches and lining them with rocks. They stop to listen to Seybou Diémé, the extension agent who got them started on this project.

“This work you’re doing is so important. In Tatène, another village where we did this work in collaboration with The Rodale Institute®, the land used to look like this,” he says. “Now there are fields of millet everywhere there.” Seybou, a 36-year agricultural extension veteran, works with ADT-GERT, a non-governmental organization based in Thiès, to rehabilitate the highly eroded soils of the region.

“The women are particularly motivated. In fact, everywhere we go, it’s the women who are the most mobilized.”

--Babacar Diouf

Since the project began in October 2003, Seybou has helped the local population lay miles of rock line, criss-crossing the hundreds of hectares that make up the watershed Kissane shares with seven other villages. The work is labor intensive, but with four groups of 40 working three days a week at different work sites, the work is advancing at a steady clip. Two thirds of them are women. “The women are particularly motivated,” says Seybou”s assistant Babacar Diouf. “In fact, everywhere we go, it’s the women who are the most mobilized.”

Rock lines are a common soil and water conservation technique throughout semi-arid West Africa. In this part of Senegal, annual precipitation is highly variable, ranging from 12 to 24 inches. However, it only rains between July and October, and often only as a few intense rainfalls. As a result, the soil becomes quickly saturated and the majority of water runs off along the surface, carrying with it precious organic matter and topsoil, carving out rills and gullies along the way.

Rock lines slow the flow

By laying rock lines along the contours – any line that stays level across the face of a slope -- farmers can slow the flow of runoff and allow the water to infiltrate into the soil. The lines also capture sediment, and after several years the land between lines levels out into a slight terrace ready for farming.

By allowing the rain to filter into the soil, Seybou maintains that the water table can be recharged, thereby promoting the activity of soil microbial and microfaunal populations. He has noticed that in the past several years, termite mounds in the area have stopped growing or been abandoned in response to the receding water table. Bringing water back into the soil, he believes, is the logical first step in reviving the soil ecology, and the first step to regenerating its fertility. “When people in Senegal think about water, they only think about dams and pumps. They don’t understand that [water management] goes beyond that.“

“When people in Senegal think about water, they only think about dams and pumps. They don’t understand that [water management] goes beyond that.“

He plans next to set aside 25 acres as pasture land for community grazing. This area will be an “improved fallow,” an area in which they plant woody and herbaceous species palatable to livestock. In an adjacent watershed, a few kilometers up the road, Seybou has worked with the village of Dakhar Mbaaye since 1996 to slow water erosion in the Foret Classé de Thiès, a 30,000-acre national forest across the road where the majority of the village population grazes its livestock. While grazing on this land is actually illegal, there is no enforcement.

Traditional grazing land has been lost to urban expansion and expansion of peanut fields, the nation’s major cash crop. “There shouldn’t be any agricultural activity in the Foret Classé that includes livestock. But until they understand this, there has to be a way to slow the degradation and give the animals something to eat,” Seybou says.

Basins bring back vegetation

To do this, he and the Dakhar Mbaaye villagers have dug several crescent-shaped catchment basins to slow the flow of water, allowing infiltration. The 6-foot-wide crescents are only 12 to 14 inches deep to keep livestock from falling and injuring themselves. A livestock corridor between crescents facilitates the passage of large herds through the area, part of a “foret routière” (forest path) to be managed by the local population. Natural vegetation is slowly reemerging in the area, and the nep-nep (Acacia nilotica) trees planted by the project workers around several of the basins are thriving. “There is no government agency taking care of forest restoration at present; and that will be a huge problem in the future for this country. Everything is linked in Senegal. If [the forest management] knot is undone, everything will be come apart. So we have to react.”

The next stage of the project back in Kissane involves convincing individual farmers to implement soil and water conservation techniques in their fields, to improve crop production. “We need to feed the village and feed the soil.”

“We need to feed the village and feed the soil.”

In addition to having them build rock lines, Seybou will encourage them to plant live fences with trees (such as Prosopis sp.and Acacia nilotica) and fodder banks (of such plants as Andropogon Gayanus, Panicum sp., and Leucaena leucocephala). He says that for soil and water regeneration to take place throughout the watershed, individuals will need to take some initiative themselves. He hopes that once they see how the soil has improved and the vegetation returned to the slopes above the village, they will be convinced.

Many already seem to recognize the importance of what they are doing. One man says to Seybou, “This work is done for our children.”

“They know what they’re doing,” the agricultural trainer says, satisfied that the goals and techniques he shared make sense to those who have to do the work. “I measured out the first line, and they’ve done the rest. They call me if they have any problems, but they don’t need me.”

This is a good thing. Seybou is eager to carry his work on to other watersheds like this one. “We need to do this for the entire country.”

 

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