Reviving rare mangroves in Senegal

A woman shows a plant of mangrove in Senegal
Simone in the mangrove plantations of the Gandon Community Nature Reserve, Senegal. Photo: Erick-Christian AHOUNOU S.

A few kilometres outside of Saint-Louis, the capital city of the Saint-Louis Region in northern Senegal, there is a strip of land covered with the northernmost stand of mangroves in all of western Africa. The stand is genetically isolated, making its preservation an urgent matter for both the people who depend on it for their livelihoods and for the area’s ecological health. 

After seven years of local people cutting down the mangroves without restraint, only 400 hectares were left standing from the original 1,200.

Highlights

  • Two-thousand hectares of rare mangrove have been reforested in northern Senegal.
  • About 1,140 villagers were supported by a UNDP-supported mutual savings and loan account.
  • With UNDP's support, 19 million hectares of land were rehabilitated across the world.

"We used to drink water from the river, and our children - and ourselves - would fall sick so very often...  We didn't know that this was all due to the fact that our waters were being polluted, and that the plants which used to filter the dirt were disappearing", says Simone, president of the women's association of the Gandon Community Nature Reserve.

In 2003, UNDP teamed up with GEF and the Government of Senegal to provide financing for the creation of 26 National Community Reserves across Senegal, including one that covered the mangroves of Saint-Louis. The mangrove reserve covers 12 villages, inhabited by almost 12,000 people. 

For the Reserve programme to work, it required that the people who lived in and around the mangroves take complete responsibility and ownership of their restoration. The project sponsored a large awareness campaign that included outreach visits and meetings in each village with project leaders and radio spots explaining the initiative. Five newly installed hydraulic engines now manage the area’s water, helping to dam enough water to keep the mangroves healthy. 

As a result, for the first time in Senegal this rare mangrove species, called Avicennia africana, has been successfully revived, thanks to a special planting technique carried-out by women members of the Community Nature Reserve of Gandon Village. With most men of working age living and working elsewhere, women have taken the lead in reforesting 2,000 hectares of mangroves, which, in turn, are once again attracting carp, oysters and honey bees that had all but disappeared.

“The mangrove has revived,” said Rokhaya Ndiaye, one of a group of Reserve women members who replanted the mangroves. “The work is very hard for our women because they must walk in the mud and carry the plants. We were for a time discouraged but we have learned that we must continue since we have seen the results of our efforts.” 

A central part of the National Community Reserves is the promotion of eco-friendly livelihoods for the people who live in them. For example, in Saint-Louis the programme helped the villagers to establish and manage their own mutual savings and loan account that, in 2011, contained $323,000 and supported 1,140 people. It has also provided people with 171 beehives and a motorized fishing boat for eco-tourism tours.