Extract from « Haidar El Ali, itinéraire d’un écologiste au Sénégal » Bernadette Gilbertas, éditions Terre Vivante
“Were there forests everywhere in Senegal, in the past?”
Listen: In the 50s, my parents, travelling from Dakar, were going to Louga (which is 200km from Dakar). They were driving on a dusty and narrow path, surrounded by forests, when they crashed into a panther. They did not dare to pass it, because the forest, in plain day light, was too dark.
In Europe, the awareness to protect forests came at the same time as a so-destructive technology. Here, in Africa, the chain saw arrived while our awareness was not yet awakened. The chain saw thus cut up the trees at a frightening ‘big S’ speed, while we use the resource without any management policy or sustainable vision in place. All of sudden, it became very easy to acquire this resource, and get wood fuel, carving wood or the djembé that people started producing, easily, charcoal, wood fuel, for woodwork or the djembé for instance.
“Before the 70s, where there many forests here?”
No, however, it was wooded. Many trees could be found in the middle of the savannah as well as large dry forests”. In fact, the north and the centre of the country were mainly covered up by shrub lands and woodlands in the bioclimatic zones of the Sahelian and Sudanian areas. Woodlands and dense forests relics could only be found in the south, in Casamance and in the east. Ninety percent (90%) of the country’s forest resource is mainly found in these two regions.
Since the price per barrel of petrol has not stopped increasing, Senegal, much more than all the other countries in the sub-region (Senegal has the highest rate of urbanization in the Sahelian region) has experienced increased degradation of her forest resources which remain the main source of energy that is easily accessible to the majority of Senegalese.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) declares that Senegal loses, each year, about 45 000 hectares of her forests. Climatic recession, bush fires and competition for cultivable farm lands, during this past 50 years, through groundnut cultivation are the major causes for the receding of forests that still cover 25% of the national territory.
The pressure on logging for the supply of wood fuel to urban areas is increasingly recognized as the major cause of forest loss in Senegal. The charcoal represents almost 90% of domestic energy use and more than 48% of total national energy. Despite their legal status characterized by regulatory restriction of their usage, classified forest are not spared in the process of resource degradation. Regulations are constantly violated by people often facing dire problems of subsistence.
The “real green bank”, characterized by the Senegalese forest, is losing its precious savings.