DAKAR, Senegal — The primary effects of climate change in Senegal are desertification and land degradation. Desertification is a combination of droughts and erosion that result from insufficient rainfall, destruction of pastures and degradation of ecosystems. Land degradation is characterized by the salinization of agricultural land, water and wind erosion, soil infertility and reduction of agricultural diversity.
The extreme disparities in weather conditions affect food security, livelihoods and job opportunities for rural communities, predominantly women. Women comprise 70 percent of the agricultural workforce in Senegal and are responsible for producing 80 percent of the agricultural yield. Considering their labor and income are dependent on the rains, women are vulnerable to the most extreme conditions of poverty because it limits access to food and water, increases job insecurity, makes self-sufficiency difficult and limits their ability to improve their socio-economic status.
Adapting to Climate Change
Climate change often impacts the responsibilities women bear, which means they have to adopt new practices and forgo some to adapt to the changing environment. One continual challenge is water collection. The reduction of rainfall over the last two decades and poor water infrastructure in Senegal make it difficult to find water in close proximity, which impacts both the agricultural products and the home.
The disparate amount of water along with the necessity of water for both commercial and private use put women in the uncomfortable position of having to make a choice between family or income. Reduced rainfall forces many women to forgo growing out-of-season vegetables for commercial use, keeping of farm animals, addressing land degradation and desertification or engaging in other creative opportunities.
To adapt to the soil and land degradation, women have adopted practices that are intensive to make the most of the lackluster rainfall, but those practices have proven to diminish the soils. Another deterrent to productivity beyond climate change is a lack of access to modern technology used for agriculture, which subjects women to tougher labor conditions. While climate change disproportionately affects women in Senegal, women are also the leaders in finding solutions to the effects of climate change.
The Regroupement Des Femmes De Popenguine
The world recognizes the Regroupement des femmes de Popenguine pour la Protection de la Nature (RFPPN) for its successful, low-scale reforestation and regeneration of the local mangroves. RFPPN is a group made up of 1,500 women from the Popenguine region in southern Senegal. The group sought to regenerate the land with the hopes of preventing desertification and restoring the soils to a level capable of maintaining healthy vegetation for the mangrove trees, which is the community’s main export.
Mothers of the town formed the group, which collectively built a nursery to regrow the fauna and trees. The group sought the help of others by extending its project to seven nearby villages, approximately 100 square kilometers. This nursery serves upward of 35 thousand people. This project began in 1988 and originally focused on land degradation and regeneration of local biodiversity. But today, the women designed a global development project that addresses the causes of the original focus.
The group organized a fuel distribution network to regulate firewood collection, built community composts to contribute to vegetable production and soil fertility and introduced waste treatment and runoff treatments to reuse water supplies. Dually, the organization is addressing climate change by enacting successful measures that combat the effects and are empowering women as agricultural and community leaders.
Another local women’s organization is Dynamique Femmes. In conjunction with Green Senegal, the women’s association collaborated to build an anti-salt dike to regenerate lands affected by salinization and prevent water intrusion. The land affected is a rice field, and rice production was revitalized with the construction of the dike, allowing for the regeneration of the vegetation and biodiversity in the area.
These groups are doing more than just inspiring women to become active in their communities. They are also working together to reduce the drastic effects of climate change. In places like Senegal where climate change has had devastating effects on the livelihoods of these women, it is more important than ever to find a way to adapt and grow.
– Natalie Gates