Insight: Senegal, fishing and agric – battling climate change woes


Insight: Senegal, fishing and agric – battling climate change woes

Senegal is facing serious threats to its fishing and agriculture sectors due to the malign effects of climate change. But as Fadel Mohamadou Diop and Teniola Tayo of WATHI explain, the country is fighting back through enlightened government policies and public campaigns.

In less than 10 years, the charming fishing village of Guet N’Dar may well have disappeared. It is one of several picturesque fishing villages dotting the coastline of the city of Saint-Louis, the former capital of colonial-era Senegal and French West Africa. The long-term viability of this UNESCO World Heritage site with its elegant old-world architecture is under severe threat from a combination of overfishing and climate change.

Extreme weather phenomena, such as rising temperatures, heavy rainfall and rising sea levels, are expected to increase with climate change. This will mostly affect traditional fishing communities along the Senegalese coast, such as Guet N’Dar. According to a 2018 UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) study, small pelagic fish, tuna and related species are already affected by climate change. The consequences are potentially serious for tropical countries where traditional fishing dominates. In Senegal, this represents 80% of declared catches.

Fishing is essential to the Senegalese economy, employing one in six. The Senegalese get roughly 70% of their animal protein from seafood, which is also the country’s third-largest export.

But fish stocks have consistently fallen over the past decade. Women play a major role in the industry and are also among the biggest victims of the fish crisis.

Another threat stems from planned oil and gas operations following the discovery of significant reserves off the coast of Saint-Louis in 2016. While this promises new income, spectacular economic growth and the transformation of the region into a dynamic business hub, it is also a major risk to biodiversity, the marine environment and traditional fishing.

Saint-Louis is thus both a very important economic site as well as being very vulnerable. It has been declared as the African city most threatened by rising sea levels by UN-Habitat. Climate change is also a major threat to farming in Senegal. A World Food Programme (WFP) study highlights its potential impact on food production, market access and livelihoods. Rainfall is the main form of irrigation for food production in Senegal. Staples such as rice, corn, millet, sorghum and groundnuts are very sensitive to rainfall patterns; roughly 50% of production variation is attributable to rainfall changes.

Projections show that climate change could reduce future yields by up to 25%. Furthermore, rising sea levels and the resulting increased salinity, especially in the groundnut basin, could aggravate coastal erosion and accelerate soil quality deterioration.


Adapting to climate change

More generally, climate change will affect all livelihoods based on farming. Subsistence farming, cash crops, livestock farming and market gardening are very climatically sensitive and are the main source of income in the country’s central regions. These same regions also have a greater concentration of aggravating climate factors.

But the people of Senegal are fighting back, with help from international organisations. The World Bank has encouraged the development of crop varieties adapted to climate variability in order to help alleviate the problems posed by climate change. The Senegalese Agricultural Research Institute (ISRA) has received support to develop 14 varieties of early maturing, high-yield dry cereals such as sorghum, millet, corn, groundnuts and black-eyed peas.

Collaboration with local co-operatives encourages members to produce more of these grains and make them available to as many farmers as possible. As the new varieties can thrive with lower rainfall, they have increased productivity by 30% according to a World Bank study published in 2015. 

In Senegal, agriculture is the industry benefiting most from initiatives for adapting to climate change. This mirrors the ranking of industries most vulnerable to climate change in the 2006 National Action Plan for Climate Change Adaptation.

Now the government’s objective is to integrate adaptation into industry policies and to strengthen initiatives in this area. The total budget for adaptation measures planned by 2035 is estimated at $14.558bn. Eight sectors are most affected: biodiversity, coastal areas, water resources, fisheries, agriculture, livestock farming, flooding and health.

President Macky Sall confirmed this strategic direction in his second-term investiture speech, stating: “The third priority I intend to implement (after jobs, youth employability and public policies in favour of women and girls) concerns improving our living environment, promoting a decent habitat for all and protecting our environment.”

This awareness is remarkable and is reflected in the energy sector through the active promotion of renewables. Significant investment has recently been directed at solar and wind energy, while the state also promotes the use of biogas as a substitute domestic fuel.

The National Agency for Renewable Energy (ANER) was set up in 2013, aimed at increasing the share of renewables in electricity production capacity to 20% in 2017, from approximately 1% in 2013. Since 2016, Senegal has opened a series of solar power stations, including the largest in West Africa.


Involving society as a whole

In a world in which, according to Oxfam, 10% of the planet’s richest nations produce more than half of global CO2 emissions, Senegal, which like all African countries contributes very little to global pollution, lacks support to confront the consequences of climate change.

There is no doubt that the challenges of climate change in Senegal cannot be met if the task is left to the state alone. Civil society organisations are also taking the lead in spreading knowledge about climate change. The AfricAdapt network for example, is actively working on adaptation in Senegal and Africa.

Raising awareness on the subject and mobilising people is crucial to accelerating efforts to reduce the effects of climate change, adapting economic practices to the context of environmental vulnerability and strengthening the resilience of society as a whole. 

Broadening the issue of climate change to encompass environmental protection and demonstrating that such initiatives also create new economic opportunities are two paths to follow. That is why the emergence of associations and citizen groups in Senegal to fight for improved living environments, cleaner beaches, the banning of plastics, reforestation and also to combat the serious air pollution damaging the quality of life in Dakar, are very encouraging.

In Senegal, as elsewhere in Africa, many consider the global rhetoric and the pressure on the continent, by far the planet’s smallest polluter, to reject environmentally destructive economic development models, to be yet another demonstration of this world’s injustice. While this injustice is blatant and shocking, the disproportionate effects of climate change on the economic, security and political prospects of African regions are equally so.

But until such time that the world accepts it responsibility to mitigate the effects of climate change in Africa, the continent and its people must fight their own battles for their beloved continent. 


Fadel Mohamadou Diop and Teniola Tayo are researchers with the WATHI West African citizen think tank. WATHI has launched an online debate to gather the opinions of the region’s citizens and experts on the theme “How do we reduce and adapt to the effects of climate change while ensuring West Africa’s economic and social progress?”

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