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Building Walls Against Wind And Water Erosion In Senegal

Years of deforestation have left communities like Kaymor prey to floodwaters which wash away the top soil, carving canyons and ravines through the middle of villages. With the help of food assistance, residents are learning how to slow down the flow with barriers that protect the top soil and their homes.

KAYMOR--It takes an inspirational leader to mobilise people in a fight for survival, and in the central Senegalese village of Kaymor, Malick Ba has assumed this role with charisma and energy that has engaged the entire community.

“We are confronted with multiple challenges here,” Malick says, referring to the impact of climate change in Kaymor. “The area has been completely deforested to support an increase in agriculture and there is no longer a balance between man and nature.”

Malick blames climate change and the impact of deforestation that took place during the French colonial era in Senegal when vast areas of land were cleared to accommodate growing international demand for peanuts.

Canyons and ravines

Working with WFP, Malick’s local non-governmental organisation, Symbiose, is running an innovative programme under which local people are given food assistance in exchange for work on community projects that aim to rehabilitate land that has suffered from wind and water erosion.

“Because of the deforestation, there are no longer any natural obstacles to stop the water,” Malick says, “The water then destroys the village by creating canyons and ravines.”

It is a phenomenon that is evident in many villages in this area. During the annual rainy season, flood waters literally peel off the uppermost layer of the land and wash away the fertile topsoil.

The dramatic erosion creates huge ravines that divide villages in two. Whole communities can then find themselves cut off from local markets or farming areas, and if the problem is not addressed, entire villages have to be abandoned and the inhabitants relocated.

A wall against erosion

Malick’s home-grown solution is to use local volcanic stones to build man-made barriers along the water courses, creating sturdy new obstacles for the water and holding back the erosion of topsoil.

Volunteers who have registered for the WFP food for work programme weave nets for the rocks out of stainless steel wire and break the stones that will form the barriers against the coming floods.

It is back-breaking work and it can take one person a month to accumulate the 2 metric tons of stones that are required for each barrier. But the results are immediately evident when the rains arrive as new soil washed down by the floodwaters accumulates in the gaps behind the walls, filling up the ravines, and shoring up the roots of neem trees that have been planted to stabilise the soil.

“Working with WFP, we have made a real impact,” Malick says. “My hope is that by the end of this year the areas that were degraded will have recovered and we will have a strategy to make things even better.”