4 Apr 2017

Women are changing landscapes in Senegal

There is no shortage of ideas for these courageous women who want to invest more in the conservation of Senegal's Kalissaye Ornithological Reserve - Conservation and Migratory Birds - CMB2

Salt is collected by 30 women who take turns daily from November to June © Blandine Mélis
Salt is collected by 30 women who take turns daily from November to June © Blandine Mélis
By Blandine Mélis

Located in the heart of Casamance, a humid and green region in southern Senegal, the Kalissaye Ornithological Reserve covers an area of 16 hectares and includes 10 villages spread over 3 islands. The protected area has an open front on the Atlantic Ocean, but most of it is made up of a mangrove forest, accessible by canoe, and in which the estuary arms called bolongs intermingle.

After the Banc d'Arguin National Park in Mauritania and the National Djoudj Park in Senegal, the Kalissaye Reserve is one of the largest breeding sites for migratory birds on the West African coast.

In 2009, Elisabeth Djiba, from the village of Hillol, becomes local coordinator for the national campaign of mangrove reforestation implemented by the Senegalese NGO Océanium. She learns how to organize a team, manages a budget and engages villagers in the mangrove reforestation Rhizophora racemosa.

After this successful initiative, where more than 1,000 hectares were replanted in the area, it continues the adventure and mobilizes 100 women of the Reserve to structure themselves into a Group of Economic Interest.

The group GIE "Poumoulindiana" which means "propagules" in the local language sees the day. Together, they undertake to reforest more than 50 hectares of mangroves per year on their land. In 2015, Poumolindiana draws up an agreement with the Reserve Administration. The Conservateur and its agents are therefore involved in the technical supervision of women and in the search for partners.

Progressively, women's activities are diversified and take into account the economic evolution of the activities in the region. The port of Kafountine, located a few kilometers from the Reserve is a high place of artisanal fishing and many fishermen come each year to increase the number of those already installed. The fish caught is salted and processed on site and the need for salt import increases exponentially.

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It is then that women make the bet to produce this "white gold" itself to satisfy the local market and reduce the import. They set up their own salt exploitation units on the virgin islands of the Reserve. Plastic sheets are placed on the ground to retain water at each tide thanks to a pumping system operating on solar energy.

The heat produced by the sun facilitates evaporation, and the salt flower, a fine crystallized deposit, is collected by 30 women who take turns daily from November to June.

This ecological method by evaporation avoids the use of wood-fired furnaces and thus reduces the degradation of the environment. Ultimately, the group expects to produce more than 72 tonnes per year to meet the need. According to Elisabeth, the objective of the 57 tonnes this year is that women would like to replace the tarpaulins with less polluting and more resistant bins.

During these same months, another team of Poumolindiana maintains and monitors the growth of oyster spat set in a garland at the limits of the mangroves.

"We no longer want to cut the branches of mangroves to collect oysters but we now take advantage of the nutrient richness of the waters to grow our oysters without degrading our mangroves forest", explains Elisabeth.

Nothing is wasted, everything is transformed and the women of Kalissaye have understood it. They now plan to produce lime from the crushing of empty oyster shells.

There is no shortage of ideas for these courageous women who want to invest more in market gardening, fruit growing, beekeeping and rice growing. All of these income-generating activities are discussed and structured in the Reserve Action Plan under the Coastal Species Conservation Project.

This initiative, funded by BirdLife, is supported by its potential partner Nature Communities Development and Reserve Managers. Elisabeth finally told us "we have realized how important it is to use the energy of nature and to ensure that we do not exhaust resources rather than waste what it offers us".