Senegal: Emerging from conflict, now fighting climate

Photojournalist Paddy Dowling travelled to Senegal, a country torn apart by conflict, and discovered a new generation of empowered women living in a rapidly changing sub-Saharan climate

Paddy Dowling
Friday 24 January 2020 15:34

According to estimates from UN agencies, the conflict in Casamance, Senegal, claimed the lives of over 5,000 people. The Movement of Democratic Forces in Casamance (MFDC) emerged in 1982 as an armed separatist group advocating for independence, creating a guerilla force who began attacks on the Senegalese army in 1990.

In lower Casamance, 78 villages were completely destroyed, creating over 60,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) and subjected them to a life of fewer opportunities. Tens of thousands also crossed borders seeking refuge in Guinea-Bissau and the Gambia.

Although an eventual ceasefire was implemented in 2014, today few MFDC combatants remain and violent incidents are in decline. The fear of sporadic attacks has now been replaced by far greater fears of youth unemployment and food insecurities driven by the changing climate.

High levels of poverty and hunger persist in Senegal despite solid economic growth in recent years. Chronic malnutrition affects approximately 17 per cent of children younger than 5 years of age, according to the UN World Food Program.

Countries in the Sahel who rely on agriculture as primary sources of food and income are most at risk of crises and disasters. Unpredictable weather patterns, frequent droughts, floods and land desalinisation threaten the livelihoods of vulnerable communities.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated: “A number of countries in Africa who already face semi-arid conditions may see a reduction in projected crop yield by up to 50 per cent in 2020 and reduced revenues by as much as 90 per cent by 2100.”

However, a new generation of small scale farming has emerged from women in the region. They are defying what predominantly male farming practices have done for generations and are adapting to the climate changes.

Aida, 36, who has five children and is pregnant, has a business plan to grow her poultry farm (Paddy Dowling/Y Care)

Most Senegalese have noticed changes in the weather and seasons – they talk of drought, increases in temperature and distinctly shorter rainy seasons but most do not draw the connection with global climate change.

Y Care International, the YMCA’s aid and development charity, is empowering young women across the world and is supporting a programme in Senegal to address youth unemployment and help the next generation of farmers adapt to the climate crisis.

Leigh Daynes, CEO for Y Care International, explains: “The high unemployment and poverty levels experienced by young people in this remote and rural area of Casamance have only been further exacerbated by climate change. Families are now really struggling to cope with the shortfall of crops and having enough food to eat.

Belange, 23, excelled at agricultural training and now grows her own vegetable garden, as well as, rearing pigs and poultry (Paddy Dowling/Y Care)

“Working in partnership with YMCA Senegal, the Ampa Awagna project has been carefully designed to equip young people with the knowledge and skills to adapt to the changing climate, maximise their yields and diversify and market new products.

“It is becoming evident that it is the young women who are leading the way: they are desperate to gain new expertise, they are bold and resilient and are demonstrating real entrepreneurial flair. We believe that mobilising and empowering young women to set up their own businesses is the way forward for the development of rural Senegal.”

Since the introduction of the project in 2017, 354 young people have been educated in environmentally sustainable agricultural techniques, with the aim of reaching a total of 800 enrolments by the end of 2022. The ripple effect from supporting so many young people and their families in a rapidly changing climate.

Projects like these are monumental in a region where 72 per cent of young people live on less than £1.50 per day. They represent a lifeline to the courageous, visionary and the entrepreneurial to create exciting and hopeful futures for themselves, their communities and their nation.

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