For the past 50 years, the Thiès Plateau has witnessed a rapid and intense degradation of the environment. This reality is caused in part by several environmental shifts like reduced rainfall, salinization of the land, and water and wind erosion. Amongst these signs other than climate change are the direct human effects present, which include ongoing charring, cutting without reforestation, and the exploitation of natural resources. Many of these causes continue to be aggravated by the effects of climate change in the region, making it an increasingly tough and challenging environment for farmers to prosper. In spite of this downward spiraling trend, agriculture remains the largest sector of employment in the dry and sandy region of Senegal.
Local actors taking responsibility
In an effort to reduce the direct human effects on the environment in the Thiès Plateau, many local actors such as Eaux et Forêts Sénégal, Caritas Kaolack and Jeunesse et Développement (JED) have stepped forward to focus on such issues. They have also become more engaged in their community to affect positive change as it relates to current challenges to agriculture. Among these actors is the Groupe de Recherche et d’Appui aux Initiatives Mutualistes known as GRAIM. This organization, based in Thiès, has elaborated a creative and responsible plan in order to use and repurpose attainable resources in the region. Together, the members of GRAIM have chosen to specifically focus on the growth of feed crops for livestock, since large demands for pastures and grazing during the low-seasons are recurring. During this season, livestock causes heavy pressure on the environment when feed is scarce or when commodity prices are out of reach for livestock owners. These limitations lead to herds feeding on surrounding natural resources and results in a deforestation of certain spaces in order to ensure the survival of their herd, and in some cases, the well-being and survival of farmers’ families.
Adequate production and proper management of feed crops are both crucial elements to ensure a healthy balance between livestock survival and environmental preservation. Finding this balance is extremely difficult and complex for farmers as they face many unpredictable variables within a constantly changing environment. In many cases, even optimal fodder management does not guarantee equilibrium. Significant logistical difficulties arise as feed harvest happens only once a year and livestock requires steady continuous nutrition. This reality is far too common, and challenges farmers’ ability to fulfill the herds’ nutritional needs throughout the entire year.
Workshop to share knowledge of sustainable practices
The GRAIM has noticed the extent of degradation poor livestock management causes and how crucial proper it is to environmental prosperity of the region. The organization has taken action by offering workshops in the rural communities of the Thiès Plateau. The purpose of these workshops is to educate farmers on resilient ecofriendly harvesting and conservation methods, in order to offer durable solutions to the current environmental issues faced. Additionally, the GRAIM have selected several beneficiaries to receive forage seeds in order to grow and promote feed cultivation in their own communities. The GRAIM hopes these beneficiaries will serve as leaders and models in terms of feed management, harvest, conservation, preparedness, as well as environmental protection in their respective communities.
Workshops focused on conservation and harvesting techniques have been a key part of the efforts made by the GRAIM. These efforts that focus on a simple, low cost and effective conservation methods, have the potential to be replicated in many rural communities throughout western Africa. A key element to the presented techniques was the accessibility it provided, as all the required tools and materials were very cheap and readily available to farmers. Basic farming tools such as pitchforks, hoes, sickles and readily available and common resources like salt and water, were the only things needed to efficiently harvest and preserve the feed crops. The simplicity of the instructed techniques was also important to avoid further deficiencies as those indicated below.
The seminar also aimed to tackle misinformation and misconceptions individuals had regarding conservations techniques since some crops had been wasted and ineffective in the past due to a lack of knowledge. Participants learned about the negative effects of leaving harvested feed crops to dry in direct sunlight. In this case, leaving the crops to dry without any protection would significantly diminish the crops nutritional values. In order to ensure the best nutritional results of the feed crops, the GRAIM put emphasis on their conservation method during the demonstration, as it constitutes a crucial step of the process. Importance towards the positive impacts that repurposed overgrowth crops could have on livestock was also subject of conversation, as certain crops found in farmers fields were not being utilized to their full potential. The workshop explained how to harvest and transform the crops into an alternate food source for livestock, which would provide additional nutrition to herds throughout the year when needed.
Efforts continuing to preserve the environment
This effort put forward by the GRAIM is only one of many initiatives brought forth in the region to address environmental issues. Support from local community organizations and government in the way of innovative solutions is crucial to fight against the effects of climate change as local populations often lack enough resources to prioritize environmental sustainability. In the case of the Thiès Plateau, any significant loss of livestock throughout a season can cause catastrophic troubles to the vulnerable families that rely heavily on the income it produces. Innovative solutions such as the one presented above serve to push farmers to not have to choose between their families and the environment. With their quick response, creativity and innovation the Senegalese of the Thiès Plateau hope to ensure food security for livestock during the low season with forage and feeds crops. Although it may be true that the Senegalese often lack sufficient economic resources, the local actors such as the GRAIM, JED, Eaux et Forêts Sénégal and others are still able to provoke viable change with their creative mindsets and low cost solutions that were showcased in the GRAIM’s action explained above.