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Senegal: Organizing to stop deforestation

It’s 6 a.m. and Aliou Mangane is already in the Guimara forest on his mission to confront illegal loggers. He is often in the 53,000-hectare forest near Niaming, 95 km from Kolda in Casamance, Senegal.

Mr. Mangane is a leader in raising awareness about the dangers of deforestation amongst the 18,000 inhabitants of 43 villages in the Niaming commune, near the border with The Gambia.

Deforestation has become more and more problematic in Senegal. Between 1987 and 2003, the department of Medina Yoro Foulah in the Casamance Region lost nearly 93,000 hectares of forest.

To show their commitment to defending the forests, the Niaming community created vigilance committees. Mr. Mangane explains that “the role of these committees is to monitor what is left of the forest and report or stop anyone suspected of trafficking lumber from the forest. This is an enormous task – and it’s dangerous.” He says it’s not easy to fight the illegal loggers: “It is difficult to spot them because they know where to go.”

The volunteers are at risk if they are not accompanied by agents of the water and forests department of the ministry of the environment. But such challenges do not discourage Mr. Mangane and his colleagues. He says: “To encourage people to support our mission, we do sensitization in schools through environmental clubs that bring together students from the secondary school and the College of Medina Yoro Foulah.”

People in local communities understand that it’s reasonable to exploit some forest resources. Community members wait for forest products to mature before they can use them. Talking about resources such as jujube, weda (Saba senegalensis), and baobab, Mr. Mangane says, “We set a date for starting the harvest in April and a date for the end of collection in June.”

Mr. Mangane says that, in the beginning, most people were unaware of the legislation and regulations concerning forests. There was no framework for action to combat deforestation. To fill this void, local stakeholders created a document that enabled people to identify high-value tree species in the area. The document was developed over many steps, which included sensitizing local people and organizing a series of village and inter-village meetings on the content of the document and its importance.

According to Mr. Mangane, “The wood that is most coveted is rosewood. In neighbouring Gambia, logs are sold for between 50,000 and 75,000 FCFA ($83-124 US). Once this species is exhausted, African mahogany (Khaya senegalensis) and cayor pear (Cordyla pinnata) that are threatened.”

As a result of these efforts to combat deforestation, people are now more aware of the problem and better organized to face the destroyers of the forest.

In Niaming, no one thinks of giving in to illegal loggers. They are determined to defend what remains of the forest.

This article was produced with the support of the Belgian Development Cooperation, Enabel, and the Wehubit program.