Salt water has seeped into agricultural land in the village of Dioffior, in the Sine-Saloum region of western Senegal. The salt invasion has forced many farmers to abandon their rice fields, leaving them unemployed and unable to feed their families. But after creating a local association and working hard to build dikes, many have returned to their fields.
Climate change causes sea levels to rise, which has increased the amount of salt in the Sine River, which runs past the village. Over the past 30 years, salt water has contaminated between 700,000 and one million hectares of land in the Sine-Saloum delta, including the area around Dioffior. Most people in the region depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, so salinization can lead to food insecurity and poverty.
Seydou Cissé works for Senegal’s National Institute of Pedology, or soil science. He says that salinization has affected all water bodies in the Sine watershed.
To address the situation, local farmers created an association called Sakh Diam, which means “sow peace” in the Wolof language. For months, they carried baskets of sand and stones to build dikes that turned lost fields into arable land again. The dikes keep the salty river water separate from the fresh water and the fields.
So far, the association has built nine new dikes around Dioffior and recovered more than 100 hectares of land. Marie Sega Sarr is the president of the association, and is proud of these results. She says: “Before, nothing grew here. These rice paddies were tans [a Wolof term meaning “salty land”].… You can see for yourself that wild grass is growing here. If we get enough rain, we hope we can harvest on this area to feed our families as our ancestors did.”
Omar Faye is the Secretary General of Sakh Diam. He adds, “It is paying off, beginning to show results. We have started to reuse this land to grow rice. Right here, some 80 hectares have been reclaimed.”
The association wants to continue the work, and hopes to recover even more land to revitalize the region and enable its members to farm and feed their families.
In 2011, Senegal’s national academy of science and technology organized an international workshop in Dakar on recovering salty farming land in Africa. According to experts at the workshop, one-third of Senegal’s arable land is affected by salt.
In recent years, about 60 anti-salt dikes were built in four regions of Senegal, and about 7,000 hectares of formerly useless land were reclaimed for cultivation.