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Climate-smart development crystallizes on Senegal’s salt flats

Kathryn Werntz

18 Sep 2015

KAFFRINE, Senegal (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – In Senegal’s central Kaffrine region, stretches of the national highway cut through vast salt ponds. Yet the salt industry – which could help local people earn more and cope with worsening climate pressures – is little developed, experts say.

“At the artisanal level, you have men harvesting with no gloves, no boots,” said Cheikh Tidiane Sall of Innovations Environnement Développement (IED) Afrique, a group working on sustainable development. “Inadequate storage bags are used and the salt contaminates the soil.”

In most of the region’s roadside villages, men shovel salt from mounds into 25 kilo bags, piled up on the ground. Women stand in the road flagging down 18-wheeler trucks and other passing vehicles, selling the bags for $1.70 each.

Salt harvesting, storage and transport need to be improved, and production greatly increased, Sall said. Building up the industry would help compensate for financial losses in local agriculture, which relies mainly on peanut and millet production and has been hit hard by erratic rainfall.

Livestock herders are suffering too. Last year drought left them desperate to find water and grazing for their animals.

“This year everyone’s concern is flooding,” said Pierre Modou Mbengue, director of ARD, a regional development agency partnering with IED Afrique.

Salt production could provide an alternative income, as it does not depend on reliable rainfall, Sall said.

He coordinates a project that aims to channel more funding into this and other activities identified by local people as key ways to help them adapt to climate extremes and keep the money coming in.

It is an example of the “climate-sensitive” development governments will sign up to when they adopt a new global action plan to end poverty, at the United Nations later this month.

Climate change receives far more attention in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) than in the previous development agenda expiring this year.

It has a goal of its own, promising urgent action to combat global warming and its impacts, which have begun to bite.

“There is a clear signal there that without tackling climate change, sustainable development is – for many countries – unachievable,” said Sven Harmeling, a climate change expert with development charity CARE.

In the impoverished communities CARE works with in Asia, Africa and Latin America, subsistence farmers, coastal villagers and other people at risk from climate threats are planting trees, trying out new crops, setting up flood warning systems, and harvesting water to protect themselves and their incomes.

The thorny challenge of working out how to reduce planet-warming emissions enough to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius or less is being tackled separately at U.N. climate talks, tasked with agreeing a new deal in December.

But the SDGs acknowledge how climate change can harm efforts to reduce poverty and build food security, and must be considered in countries’ development strategies, Harmeling said.

In an undated photo, a man looks at artisanal salt ponds alongside the main highway in Senegal’s Kaffrine region. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Kathryn Werntz

In an undated photo, a man looks at artisanal salt ponds alongside the main highway in Senegal’s Kaffrine region. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Kathryn Werntz

COMMUNITIES DECIDE

The SDGs include a target to improve climate change-related planning and management in the poorest countries, with a focus on local communities, women and young people.

“If we could start to implement that in a bottom-up way, I think it could be really very impactful,” said climate justice advocate and U.N. special envoy on climate change Mary Robinson.

The best way to ensure climate investments reflect people’s needs is to put the planning “directly into the hands of local authorities and communities”, said the Near East Foundation’s Yacouba Deme. He leads a consortium running the Kaffrine project, alongside IED Afrique and the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development.

“Usually the government sets development priorities, and they may not know what the priorities really are at the local level,” said Lancelot Soumelong Ehode, who also works for IED Afrique.

Working under the Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) program financed by Britain, the Kaffrine project aims to change that.

In what may be a first for Senegal, it has set up committees in the region, involving local people, that are choosing activities to help them adapt to climate change. They will receive training to build skills and find resources to put their ideas into practice.

“It is not that we are obliged by the president or someone to plan for (climate change) – it is a matter of urgency that we do so,” said ARD’s Mbengue.

According to Sall, the priorities mapped out so far include salt production, support for livestock herders, and road construction to increase access to markets.

DISTRICT COMPETITION

The project is also preparing local associations to seek finance from potential sources such as Senegal’s national climate change fund, which is still empty, Britain’s Department for International Development and the fledgling international Green Climate Fund.

“We want to show the government, NGOs and the private sector it is possible that, at the local level, people can apply for and manage large funds, implement projects and evaluate them,” Sall said.

But reaching that point will be a long journey, said IED Afrique’s Ehode. The three years the Kaffrine project is planned to last is “a very short time to achieve much”, he noted.

It has taken months just to gain the confidence and respect of prefects – local government district heads – who are responsible for the transparency and governance of the climate change committees, and how they monitor projects on the ground.

Now officials have a stronger incentive to ensure that climate change concerns are a central part of local development plans, as intended in the new global goals.

“The prefects are anxious to be doing this work,” said Sall. “The healthy sense of competition makes each prefect want his area to be doing better than the next.”

(Reporting by Kathryn Werntz in Kaffrine and Megan Rowling in Barcelona; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

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