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Senegal: Keeping salt collectors afloat in an era of climate change (Trust)

In the humid heat of Senegal’s rainy season, Mbayan Fam points across a bleak expanse of sand dotted with grass to the shallow inlet where she and her fellow salt collectors harvest white “gold” with their bare hands.

The wide delta, reached by a flood-prone dirt road, is a tough place to work, and the women lack protective equipment, which results in skin problems. In recent years, their incomes have dropped too, as sand sweeps across the bare landscape.

These salt gatherers of Keur Mboucki municipality are hoping that environmental efforts will alter their fortunes. They have reforested the inlet’s shores with salt-tolerant trees, which may make life easier for them.

The women hope to benefit in many ways from the trees. Mrs. Fam says: “With these trees that we have planted, we can reclaim the land, and carry on with our activities…. We will have shade where we can sit down and rest a bit. And we can also use the trees to treat illnesses.”

The women have helped plant about 48,000 tiny eucalyptus and native species of trees, including Acacia senegal and sump (desert date), along five kilometres of the inlet’s banks.

Babakar Dème heads the local branch of the government’s water and forest service. He explains that, if the trees grow as planned, they will secure the sandy soil and add nutrients over the next couple of years, reducing erosion by wind and water.

But Mr. Dème stresses that the community still has a lot to learn. Not all of the trees are thriving. A few have already shrivelled in the relentless heat and salty soil. He says the goal is for 80% to survive.

His team has set up a nursery to cultivate the saplings—a skill the villagers will need to acquire so they can carry on the reforestation work.

Mr. Dème says that the environmental problems at the tip of the Saloum Delta are caused not by the salt, which has always been exploited, but by the increased rate of deforestation.

The inlet is dotted with large piles of salt, covered by acacia branches to protect them from the elements. In other parts of the region, trees are felled by charcoal-makers and famers clearing land to grow crops.

Mr. Dème explains, “All the actions of humans combined have resulted in reducing this ecosystem to nothing. Now we want to restore it.”

Abdou Aziz Diagne is the mayor of Keur Mboucki. He says restoring the environment and protecting the salt business are vital for the economic life of the community, and could help to prevent migration. He explains, “Salt is our ‘gold.’ … All our young people do this work if they are not herders or in local government. It means they can stay here because they can earn money.”

To read the full article on which this story is based, “Can global climate cash keep Senegal’s salt collectors afloat?” including additional information about IED Afrique projects in Senegal, go to: http://news.trust.org/item/20161013100310-akh74/ [1]

Photo credit: TRF/Megan Rowling