Forests are generally found in the central and southern regions of the country , . In 2006, primary forests covered an estimated 1.6 million hectares . Unfortunately, forest area in Senegal has declined in recent decades. In 2005, forest area was estimated at 9.7 million ha, by 2010, forest area had decreased to 8.5 million ha. During this period, the recorded losses amounted to 40,000 ha per a year .
Senegal’s forest areas are vitally important, representing about 41% of the country’s land area  and providing a habitat for over 1,000 animal and 2,100 plant species (in 2005) . Forests perform key ecosystem services such as contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation, preventing desertification and soil erosion, alleviating the effects of natural disasters, cleaning the air and water and protecting biodiversity . In the country, they are also a vital safety net for people living in poverty, providing food and fuel, medicines and materials, as well as maintaining freshwater supplies .
Senegal has about 185,000 hectares of mangrove estuaries in the regions of Casamance and Sine Saloum, which are disappearing at an alarming rate. Since the 1970s, a quarter of the total surface area, or 45,000 hectares of mangroves, have already been lost due to cycles of droughts, as well as deforestation of mangroves for timber, and the blockage of waterways by road construction . Mangrove ecosystems provide a protective service to their surrounding productive zones. For example, in the Casamance, the mangrove is the first line of defence of the hinterland rice fields, as well as a spawning ground for marine life: this makes them both a necessary element in the adaptation to increased wave action and saltwater incursion by Sea Level Rise, as well as a vulnerable ecological niche with great influence on fisheries .
In Kaffrine, a region of Senegal where many families rely on charcoal, deforestation has taken its toll on the residents. In 2016, the region was scourged by heavy flooding during the summer. Heavy rain had always been common in Kaffrine during the summer months, but 2016 brought a level of flooding not seen for decades. The floods destroyed at least 100 houses and damaged at least 1,500 other homes on a massive scale. In addition, the flood waters swept away crops, resulting in farmers losing their livelihood for the year – a devastating blow in a region where agriculture is the main source of income. Experts claimed that deforestation may have been partially responsible for the flooding and that reforestation might be the key to preventing similar disasters in the coming years . In addition, in the agricultural sector, declines in soil fertility are largely linked to deforestation .
Deforestation and degradation of forest ecosystems in Senegal is due to natural and anthropogenic causes . Senegal has a semi-arid Sahelian climate. Although rainfall varies considerably from year to year, in general it has been declining for about 30 years. Years of drought have contributed directly to the degradation of Senegal’s natural resources .
Human activities also have a negative impact on the country’s forest resources, including frequent bush fires which degrade soil already impoverished by inappropriate farming practices; overgrazing connected especially with transhumance; extensive livestock rearing; unsustainable fuelwood extraction and illegal cutting in the most densely wooded areas (often provoked by poverty); and agricultural clearing and farming within reserved forests .
Bushfires destroy large areas of forests every year. The Ecological Monitoring Center (CSE) estimated that an area of 89,824 ha was burned in 2012, with a total of 393 declared fires. In 2011, biomass ravaged by bush fires amounted to about 5.7 million tonnes .
Energy supply in Senegal has been dominated by biomass . Use of fuelwood (firewood and charcoal) and timber, has led to the highly visible degradation of forest ecosystems. For example, the production of charcoal rose from 57,947 tonnes in 2010 to 74,749 tonnes in 2011 (an increase of 29%) . In Senegal, almost 8 million m³ of wood is harvested annually from the forest ecosystems for fuelwood alone .
In addition, the green lung and last forest stronghold of Senegal, Casamance, located in the south of the country, has been powerless against the progressive disappearance of its forests . Illegal logging of endangered rosewood has been rife in Casamance for the past decade due to an insatiable demand for antique-style furniture. As Senegalese exports are banned, the trade has been routed through its neighbour The Gambia. According to an investigation by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an estimated 1.6 million trees have been illegally harvested in Senegal and smuggled into The Gambia between June 2012 and April 2020. The rosewood traffic between Senegal and The Gambia has been largely controlled by armed rebel groups and is the principal source of income for rebels , .
Key policies and governance approach
As a result of the decentralisation of policy-making implemented in 1996, local authorities have a high degree of autonomy over the management of land use and natural resources, including forests .
The National Forest Policy (2005-2025) emphasizes capacity building within a decentralized institutional framework for effective implementation of programmes to curb forest and soil degradation and biodiversity loss, while also targeting livelihood support and poverty reduction. In 2014, this policy was updated due to concerns around the impact of climate change, but also better mangrove ecosystem management and the fight against bushfires. Grounded on the principle of decentralisation and the fight against poverty, the main objective of the policy is to contribute to poverty reduction by promoting sustainable management and conservation of biodiversity and forest resources, reaching a socio-environmental balance, but also meeting the needs of the population .
To counter illegal logging, in 2018, Senegal approved a new Forest Code and a decree that laid out the modalities for forest product exploitation. This includes toughened penalties; strengthening forestry staff; employing the Senegalese army; developing a project on the Sustainable Management of Coastal and Estuarine Ecosystems; organizing press tours; and creating the Senegalese Reforestation Agency .
In addition, Senegal signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Gambia to improve the sustainable management of transboundary forests. The MoU focuses on stabilizing and strengthening forest carbon stocks, ensuring that forests and trees contribute more to the food security of local populations, and strengthening national and subnational forest authorities to improve forest governance and policing. Thus far, the MoU has reduced illegal timber trafficking and improved the sustainable management of cross-border forests .
Successes and Remaining Challenges
To protect mangrove ecosystems, Senegal has established parks and several non-governmental organizations and environmental groups have launched mangrove-planting projects. The Saloum and Casamance deltas, in particular, have been a focus of “blue carbon” restoration efforts, with Livelihoods reporting that it planted more than 79 million trees in the two deltas. As a result, Senegal’s mangroves have experienced significant regeneration and expansion since 2000, according to a satellite-based analysis by NASA scientists. Over the 16-year period, the scientists measured an expansion totalling 48 km², or 2 percent. They observed regeneration across 148 km², an increase of 6 percent .
Despite multiple efforts of the government and development partners to reverse the deforestation process in Senegal, forest loss remains a concern . Barriers to sustainable forest management include inadequate forest management planning; limited opportunities for community participation in the formulation of management plans; low understanding of the economic, social and environment benefits of forest ecosystems; and a legal environment that does not offer opportunities for the generation of revenues from forest ecosystem services .
Due to a lack of participation in the elaboration of management plans, communities living along or adjacent to the priority forest ecosystem zones do not feel ownership over the forest ecosystems and therefore lack incentive for surveillance and sustainable forest management .
In addition, vulnerable populations and local leaders are unaware of the opportunities resulting from proper sustainable forest management. Lack of valuation and compensation systems still means that ecosystem services rendered fail to contribute to income generation of vulnerable households. Laws, rules and regulations that would offer such possibilities have been developed, but are not (yet) operational, leading to a lack of opportunities to deploy government incentives for improved ecosystem service delivery. Without proper allocation of development budgets to forest governing institutions, their capacity for this prior deployment is insufficient, as is their capacity for proper planning and coordination, Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV) and financing of forest ecosystem management .
Because the human and budgetary resources available are insufficient to enforce the Forest Code, people frequently enter the forest and degrade it. Illegal logging has been a major issue that has led to large-scale deforestation. Since 2010, more than one million trees have been lost as demand for timber for furniture has exploded in China and other countries around the world .
Initiatives and Development Plans
Senegal plays an important role in the Great Green Wall initiative, spearheaded by the African Union and funded by the World Bank, the European Union and the United Nations, which was launched in 2007 to halt the expansion of the Sahara by planting a barrier of trees running 4,815 miles along its southern edge . Under the initiative, over 18 million trees have been planted and 800,000 ha of degraded land has been restored for communities. In Senegal, the National Agency for Reforestation and the Great Green Wall (ASERGMV) is the responsible agency engaged in mass-scale reforestation programs and campaigns. In 2020, as part of the reforestation campaign, the Senegalese government announced to plant 20 million trees across the country .
To support the Great Green Wall initiative, The Olympic Forest, a new initiative of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – in collaboration with charity Tree Aid – will work in 90 villages across Mali and Senegal. The project will involve the planting of approximately 355,000 native and diverse trees to sequester 200,000 tonnes of CO2 across 2,120 ha in Mali and Senegal. Delivering the project on the ground, Tree Aid will use proven agroforestry techniques, land and resource governance, restoration and conservation to make the Olympic Forest a high-impact project which lasts. Crucially, the work is designed to support communities to manage their own land, so they are better able to reap the benefits of the environment around them in the most sustainable way .
The environmental organisation Ecolibri also launched a project, on World Environment Day 2021, to plant an urban forest of 1,300 trees in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. The project, supported by the European Union (EU), aims to accelerate reforestation in order to preserve the environment. The project aims to restore the forest cover of the city of Dakar, increase its carbon dioxide (CO2) storage capacity, improve stormwater management and protect wildlife. The future urban forest will also serve as a space of well-being, inspiration, education and resourcing for the people of Dakar .
Goals and Ambitions
In 2019, after the re-election of Senegalese President Macky Sall, a massive investment program of 50 billion CFA francs (over 76 million euros) was launched to the initiative Plan Senegal Emerging – Green (Green PES) for sustainable reforestation of the national territory, to be carried out in conjunction with local authorities, in particular those in semi-arid areas of the country.
Other major goals and ambitions under the Emerging Senegal Plan (2019-2023) include:
- Apply the new Forest Code, in particular its part relating to illegal logging, and launch a national awareness program on the major risks related to the environment in the country.
- Create the National Forest Research Institute (INRF) which will be active in the fields of research in forest biotechnology and wind and water erosion. It will benefit from the computing power and artificial intelligence of the CNCS (National Center for Scientific Computing).
- Set up the Senegalese Forest Protection Agency (ASP-F), placed under the supervision of the National Directorate of Water and Forests, Hunting and Soil Conservation, as a body of volunteers working with the decentralized services of Eaux et Forêts and local authorities.
- Develop massive reforestation programs and initiatives and enhance community engagement in these efforts.
- Protect forests from bushfires and protect fauna and flora
- Strengthen governance through stricter forest laws/acts.
- Institutional capacity building to prevent over exploitation of natural ecosystem and human activities like illegal logging.
- Priorities for the agriculture sector include continuing existing drought and desertification management efforts, and promoting sustainable land management practices (e.g., agroforestry, crop diversification, community forests, the establishment of early-warning systems).
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