Senegal’s topography is comprised of low rolling plains with foothills in the southeast, the highest point at 581m [1]. According to the World bank (2018), 16.62% or 3,200,000 ha of Senegal’s total land area is arable land (i.e., cultivable under rainfed conditions) [2],[3],[4]Senegal is one of the 13 countries to surpass the target of the Maputo Declaration of allocating 10% of the government budget to agriculture – a sector that accounts for 46% of land [5] and employs 81% of the rural population.

However, Senegal is still facing challenges related to land degradation and long-term loss of ecosystem services. In 2010, 1.8 million people were living on degrading agricultural land - an increase of 38% in a decade, bringing the share of rural residents who inhabit degraded agricultural land up to 24% of the total rural population [6]. During the same period, the amount of people residing in remote degrading agricultural areas with limited market access increased by 37%, reaching 257,000 people. Populations in remote areas have restricted options for managing land and accessing other benefits of economic development. Land degradation leads to reduction in the provision of ecosystem services that takes different forms - deterioration in food availability, soil fertility, carbon sequestration capacity, wood production, groundwater recharge, etc.- with significant social and economic costs to the country [7].

Despite agriculture’s importance, as Senegal lies within the drought-prone Sahel region, with irregular rainfall and generally poor soils, Senegal relies on imports to meet approximately 70% of its food needs. Top agricultural imports in Senegal are rice, wheat, corn, onions, palm oil, sugar, and potatoes [8]. Most of Senegal’s imported food and agricultural products originate from Europe and Asia [9].

Studies have shown that the amount of agricultural land in Senegal has increased slightly, while family farm holdings have diminished [10]. Senegal currently has a complex and poorly regulated system of land governance, which — combined with an urbanisation trend and increasing outsider interest — is leading to land privatisation and a consequent reduction in the availability of cultivable land for small producers [11]. Young farmers, women and herders in particular are struggling to gain sufficient access to land to maintain viable enterprises [10], [11].


The land degradation process is driven by both climate (direct) and human (indirect) factors [12]. In Sub-Saharan Africa, poor agricultural and forestry practices (poor management of irrigation, fertilization, mechanization or phytosanitary treatments, overgrazing, deforestation and other excessive harvesting of forest products, bush and forest fires, etc.) are major causes of land degradation [13].

Land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas is mainly due to erosion and salinization, both of which are exacerbated by poor agricultural practices (in particular poor management of irrigation and fertilization). In Senegal, land degradation affects 64% of arable land with 74% of this degradation being caused by erosion and the rest by salinization [13].

In addition, in Senegal, a number of factors have intensified pressure on land and restricted vulnerable households’ access to land resources since the 2000s. These include a renewed interest among local and international agribusiness investors in acquiring farmland, including for biofuel production, the increase in mining activities, demographic growth, urbanisation and soil degradation. The changes in land access vary from one agro-ecological region to another, depending on socioeconomic structures, levels of land reserves, and local development interventions [10].


Key policies and governance approach

The government of Senegal has designed several policies to prevent land degradation and rehabilitate degraded lands and enhance land productivity, including the National Action Plan to Combat Desertification and the National Framework for Investment into Sustainable Land Management (CNIS/SLM). In addition, Senegal was a pilot country of the UNCCD Land Degradation Neutrality LDN process in 2015  [14].

In 2004, Senegal enacted the Agriculture, Forestry, and Livestock Act (LOASP) with an objective of increasing private agricultural investment and ensuring Sustainable Land Management (SNM) [15].

Land governance in Senegal is dominated by two different management models: a modern model based on national legislation and a traditional model founded on customary rules. In June 1964, Senegal adopted a new land law, the Law on the National Domain (LOI No. 64-46). It considers the majority of Senegalese land and especially rural land used for living, agriculture and cattle raising as a national domain. This means that local communities can only obtain user rights: land cannot be sold or bought. At the time of independence in 1960, the national domain constituted 95% of Senegal’s land of which individuals, irrespective of gender, could claim land or obtain user rights as long as they used the land productively and lived in the community where the land is located [16].  

Within this system, land governance in Senegal is decentralised and becomes the responsibility of local governments and rural communities. However, democratic processes at local level (and the election of representatives) often do not work as they should. In many cases, these processes are overruled by customary practices. The success of these processes depends on the willingness of governmental bodies to involve communities and the capacity and resources available to both local governments and communities [16].  

A good deal of effort has been invested in supporting women in Senegal, yet they had to wait until 2001 to see equal access to land and property rights for men and women enshrined in the Constitution (Article 15) and are still waiting for concrete legislation to bring this law into force [10].

The pursuit of the land reform is clearly expressed in the orientations of the Emerging Senegal Plan (PSE, 2019-2023). The Government of Senegal recognizes that land access is one of the conditions for economic emergence and intends to reform the land sector [17].



Land governance in Senegal is problematic. In some areas, agribusinesses now dominate huge tracts of what used to be family farmland. The transactions that private investors use to acquire this land are rarely transparent, and often undermine local communities’ collective rights to use the land in their territory.

Local producers are caught between three systems: the legal system; customary norms; and actual practices on the ground. Most producers acquired the land they occupy through traditional inheritance systems that they still regard as legitimate, but they have no security of tenure because the land has not been allocated to them by the authorities and they hold no legal title to it.

Compensation for loss of land to mining and agribusiness is arbitrary and inequitable. Since the majority of rural people have customary rights to their land rather than land titles, if the state grants concessions to mining companies on land in the national domain, companies are in a position to evict original occupants [10].

The trend towards greater land ownership by larger-scale private investors is having particular impacts on Senegal’s traditional farming communities. Outsiders are creating limited job opportunities in rural areas, but they are also occupying land that might otherwise be available to local farmers. They also consume other resources, such as water — in the Niayes region, a study found that the investment required to secure access to water is often beyond the reach of smallholder farmers [12].

Attempts at land reform have remained unsuccessful for the past 20 years. The Senegalese government has attempted to reform its land tenure policy several times over the years, without any significant progress to date. The different attempts at reform met with: (i) operational difficulties: the number of different commissions proved to be excessive, while at the same time under-representing civil society and the private sector. Activities were focused on dialogue and reflection instead of on specific references capable of informing the debate; (ii) unresolved issues: discussions concerning land reform became mired in complex land tenure policy questions such as the legal value of rights, the development of a land market, or the respective role of the government and the municipalities concerning the management of the national domain. These issues were never resolved, and a vision shared by all the stakeholders in the land sector has yet to emerge [17].  


Initiatives and Development Plans

A major initiative to combat desertification and land degradation in Senegal has been the Great Green Wall (GGW) initiative, which aims to restore degraded land across the Sahel Region. Spanning 20 African countries and backed by a broad set of international partners, the initiative supports several sustainable land management projects. Together, these projects form an 8000 km “wall” across the width of Africa. This provides a compelling solution to tackle the threat of desertification and the degradation of natural ecosystems, while providing alternative livelihood opportunities for local communities.

The GGW initiative supports an integrated approach to sustainable land management, combining agricultural and rural development, food security, biodiversity conservation and sustainable use, and climate change mitigation and adaptation. Since start of the initiative in 2007, around 15% of the intended land has already been restored, bringing improved food security, jobs and stability to people’s lives. In Senegal, 12 million drought resistant trees have been planted in less than a decade [18].  

In addition, through the Regreening Africa project, the European Union is supporting land restoration across one million hectares, benefitting 500,000 households in Senegal, Mali, Niger, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Rwanda. Through a diverse set of agroforestry practices and practical innovations, the initiative has proven that it is indeed possible to restore degraded lands and critical ecosystem functions [19].

FAO is also active in Senegal to combat desertification and prevent land degradation under the ‘Action Against Desertification’ Programme. With funding from the European Union, Action Against Desertification supports the work of Senegal’s National Agency of the Great Green Wall on community-based management of land and natural resources through sustainable land management and restoration. 7,876 ha of degraded land have been restored over the course of the project through a combination of mechanized and manual restoration [20].

Additionally, UNEP is implementing the project ‘Promote Sustainable land Management (SLM) practices to Restore and Enhance Carbon Stocks through Adoption of Green Rural Habitat Initiatives’. The goal of the project is to support scaling up of SLM practices in land use planning and promote technology that can enhance carbon stock, reduce emissions and generate revenue for local communities through increased productivity and green jobs.


Goals and Ambitions

To combat the issue of desertification, under the ‘Emerging Green Senegal Plan’, the country is focusing on a major reforestation programme with a total value of 50 billion CFA francs (just over 76 million euros).

By 2030, the Great Green Wall initiative aims to restore 100 million hectares of currently degraded land in the Sahel region, including Senegal, sequester 250 million tonnes of carbon and create 10 million jobs in rural areas.

  • Reduce the impact of land-intensive activities by using Sustainable Land Management (SLM) practices, so that less carbon is released from soil, crops and other biomass.
  • Reverse land degradation, for example, by restoring or rehabilitating land that has lost productivity.
  • Future research should build on efforts to explore drivers of change in particular agro-ecological contexts and implications for the most vulnerable groups. Following from this, laws should be rethought into framework laws that can take account of the different agro-ecological qualities of different parts of the country.
  • In-depth analysis is needed of the roles and responsibilities of elected officials, other land governance actors and the General Directorate of Taxes and Land Matters in land transactions and other aspects of land governance.
  • More action in needed by all relevant stakeholders to ensure that private investors, particularly in the mining sector, comply with the law; this includes compliance with Environmental Impact Assessment requirements, to ensure local land rights are protected, including reserves for future generations.
  • More attention needs to be paid to the threat to the environmental equilibrium of the Niayes (particularly the green belt of casuarina trees) posed by mining operations and urbanisation.
  • Greater emphasis should be placed on initiatives that promote and support family farming.
  • Initiatives that promote private sector access and partnerships need to emphasise inclusive and responsible business practices.
  • A land reform agenda must carefully and sensitively consider the interests and priorities of different groups, focusing on the protection of and opportunities for the most vulnerable. These could include considering limitations to foreign land leases or promoting traditional land management practices [10].

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[7] UNCCD (2018). Country Profile of Senegal. Investing in Land Degradation Neutrality: Making the Case. An Overview of Indicators and Assessments. [Online]. Available:

[8] [Online]. Available:

[9] USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (2019). Senegal Exporter Guide Annual 2018.

[10] Niang, A, Sarr, N, Hathie, I, Diouf, N, Ba, C, Ka, I and Gagné, M (2017) Understanding changing land access and use by the rural poor in Senegal. IIED, London.

[11] Niang, A and Knapman, C (2017) Land access for Senegal’s small producers under threat. Briefing. IIED, London.

[12] AGNES (2020). Policy Brief No. 2: Land Degradation and Climate Change in Africa.

[13] Tharcisse Guedegbe, Tudal Sinsin & Mohammed Rachid Doukkali (2018). Is Land Degradation Neutrality in Africa Possible?

[14] République du Sénégal (2018). REVUE NATIONALE VOLONTAIRE Rapport final.

[15] Sow, S., Nkonya, E., Meyer, S. and Kato, E., (2016). Cost, drivers and action against land degradation in Senegal. In Economics of Land Degradation and Improvement–A Global Assessment for Sustainable Development (pp. 577-608). Springer, Cham.

[16] Enda Pronat and LANDac (2018). Working paper 3: Securing women land rights in Africa.

[17] World Bank (2019). Support to Senegal Rural Land Policy ASA (P164820) Modernizing the rural land sector.

[18] UNCCD (2020). Great Green Wall Initiative. [Online]. Available:

[19] European Commission (2021). Regreening Africa. [Online]. Available:

[20] FAO (2020). Action against desertification. [Online]. Available: