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Changing farming systems to adapt to climate change in Senegal

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Moussa Seck
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In the last decade, discussions on the effects of climate change have become more intense. They mostly focus on reducing emissions in industrialised nations, but learning how to adapt to climate change is equally important. What lessons can policymakers learn from experiences to date?Most
farmers in Senegal practice rain fed production with basic technologies.
However, since the 1970s, there have been successive droughts, a progressive
reduction in rainfall and soil has become degraded. The government has policies
to conserve forests and biodiversity and to develop irrigated agriculture and
horticulture. Despite these efforts, 17 years of recurring drought mean that
agricultural yields have declined, tree clearing has continued and poverty has
from ‘Environment and Development in Third World Countries’, an organisation in
Senegal, discuss a pilot farm in Sébikotane, Senegal, which has successfully adapted
to the changing climate. Because of climate variations, the Sébikotane area has
become unsuitable for agriculture. For example, it is close to the coast and
wind erosion is a problem. The farm needed solutions not only to protect soils
against wind, but also to restore lost productivity.
To adapt to these changes, farm workers
learned to define their farm as a newly created ecosystem and manage it on this
basis. They selected agricultural strategies that balance increased production
with ecosystem sustainability. This technique is known as ‘producing the
Sébikotane pilot farm is an agricultural system that increases yields at the
same time as creating environmental benefits. The research shows:
Sébikotane system produces wood as well as crops. This means that it does not
degrade the environment to process food. This is important in a country where
1.2 tons of wood are used to cook 1 ton of food.
is combined with irrigation to protect soils against the wind whilst also
creating microclimates that stimulate crop production. Drop irrigation is
favoured because it is more efficient in terms of water and labour.
farmers who have passed through the Sébikotane pilot farm have used the
techniques learned on their own land. This is important in a country where
rural depopulation is high and young people often abandon agriculture.
factor in the success at Sébikotane was that workers were young and relatively
well educated.
most important lessons of the Sébikotane experience is that the environment
should be treated as a factor of agricultural production along with
fertilisers, inputs and production techniques. Moreover, it is not possible to just
protect, preserve and restore the environment, it is also possible to ‘produce’
it. Therefore, desertification is not an irreversible phenomenon.
these Sebikotane farming systems have evolved from pilot scale projects to a
larger-scale programme; lessons from these projects are broadly implemented by
many small scale producers in Senegal. For these, and other useful lessons from
Sebikotane to be learned more widely, the research suggests:
government interventions, including education and financial support, are needed
to develop people’s ability to think about agriculture in new ways.
links in the production chain – input sales, packing, processing and transport
– must take place in rural areas rather than in cities. 
three to five year cycles of adaptation programmes are not long enough.
Learning to use this system takes a long time; similar adaptation programmes
must be given long-term commitments.