Mauritania: Farmers adapt to preserve traditional date palms in face of climate change (IPS)

| September 22, 2012

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Tahya Mint Mohamed lists the many ways she uses palm trees: “We eat its dates; we make mats, beds and chairs from palms; the leaves are also used to make baskets and to feed our livestock.” She sums up by saying, “The palm tree is a means of survival.”

Dates and date palms hold an important place in the history and culture of Mauritania, not to mention its economy. Nearly 20,000 people in Mauritania’s oasis regions depend on dates for their livelihood. But to maintain these livelihoods, date palm producers must now adapt to problems caused by climate change.

Mrs. Mint Mohamed is a 44-year-old date palm producer. She is also the Regional President of the Associations for Participatory Management of Oases, in the Two Hodhs region of southwestern Mauritania. The association is a farmers’ coalition formed as part of efforts to preserve oasis ecosystems and maintain farmer livelihoods.

The Mauritanian government established the Oases Sustainable Development Program 10 years ago. The initiative encourages small-scale farmers to organize themselves into participatory management associations. These groups are then eligible for government grants.

Mohamed Ould Ahmed Banane works with the Oases Sustainable Development Program. He says Mauritania’s oases have been badly affected by drought. The oases are suffering from siltation, a lack of water, and declining soil fertility.

Sid’Ahmed Ould Hmoymed is the mayor of Atar, the principal town of Adrar, a date-producing region. He describes how climatic changes have affected date producers: “In Adrar, date production was clearly lower this year because of climatic threats such as poor rainfall, dust and wind, which held back the harvest.”

To help farmers adapt to these changes, the program also runs field schools to demonstrate sustainable land management techniques. Techniques include intercropping date palms with fruit trees and vegetables, using organic fertilizer, and small-scale irrigation.

Mr. Banane explains: “This creates three levels of protection against soil erosion and allows good conservation, efficient irrigation, and a diversification of sources of income for the farmers.”

Some farmers have been reluctant to adopt the techniques. But Ms. Mint Mohamed is doing what she can to protect her date palm plantation. She calls it her most precious investment. Throughout the year, she protects it from locusts, birds, and animals. She irrigates the palms with a shadoof, a traditional, small-scale well and bucket irrigation method.

These practices lessen the effect of irregular rainfall. Still, Ms. Mint Mohamed’s harvest varies greatly, depending on rainfall and her success in managing pests. This year she expects a harvest of between 500 and 1,000 kilos of dates.