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Land desalinated in Senegal for food self-sufficiency: Tackling the sea



The Fatick region, population 613,000, is located 155 kilometres from the Senegalese capital of Dakar. A good illustration of humanity’s struggle against nature and climatic and environmental hazards, Senegal has – together with the African Development Bank, which is supporting the Project to Support Local Small-Scale Irrigation (PAPIL) – committed to winning hectares of salinized land back from the sea to use them for agriculture. A fitting reversal, because there was a time when the peanut, the flagship crop of Senegal, was the main agricultural resource there. But the salt marshes ultimately got the economic upperhand with the production and marketing of salt. Thus began the invasion of the land by salt....
Many valleys on the coast of Senegal are now subject to advancing salinity as a result of the decrease in rainfall. Some 800,000 hectares of land are estimated to be affected by salt in Senegal, with a significant proportion in the Fatick region. Low-lying coasts are repeatedly flooded by the sea during high tide. The resulting salinization then leads to toxicity that threatens plants. In the end it leads to the gradual infertility of large areas of land. The region’s Saloum islands and estuarial areas are also witnesses to a degradation of the mangroves, which leads to erosion of the coasts and weakening ecosystems.
Inland, the decrease in rainfall and related issues have degraded vegetation cover and worsened the aridification of lowlands and valleys which were formerly prime agricultural land.

In 2003, the AfDB approved funding for this project, which extends to four regions: Fatick, Kédougou (east), Kolda (south) and Tambacounda (east).

The Bank granted initial funding in the form of an African Development Fund loan of US $22.2 million, which ended in December 2011, and after that it made a new loan of US $13 million, which ended in December 2013. Since 2011, the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) has also participated in the funding of the project through a US $14.47-million loan.




This situation is forcing farmers to develop techniques to retain run-off water and to use more suitable varieties of crops. To support them in their struggle, the Senegalese Government, assisted by its partners, set up the Project to Support Local Small-Scale Irrigation (PAPIL) in the early 2000s. Its goal was to reduce poverty and strengthen food security through the promotion of water-control infrastructure and measures to adapt to climate change.

Key Facts:

  • A little over 1 million m3 of water have been mobilised for off-season agricultural activities.
  • 1,800 plots upland rice plots have been brought into use on top of a lowland potential of at least 5,000 ha.
  • 4 large rice cultivation areas have become accessible, with a potential of some 4,000 ha.
  • 4 rice basins and 10 villages in 4 municipalities are no longer isolated.
  • Women in the 11 targeted villages (each village having, on average, 500 women) have seen their load of domestic duties lightened.


The overall impacts and effects of the project for the people can be seen in many places, where they are talked about spontaneously and unanimously: improved food security, diversified economic activities, rising incomes, less isolation for the region, protection and regeneration of the ecosystem, strengthened community dynamic, and more.

Those involved particularly appreciate the relevance and originality of the project, with its participatory approach and synergy implemented at the regional level, in addition to the catalysing effect of the works on agricultural production and mobility. Real prospects for development are opening up in multiple locations with these new works.

Emergence of development clusters around scheme sites

The experience of PAPIL has shown that, thanks to the mobilisation of water, redeveloped sites rapidly become development clusters giving rise to many activities initiated by local people: rice cultivation, market gardening, fishing, stock-breeding, bee-keeping, etc.

Regeneration of the natural environment (recovery of salinized land, raising of water tables, natural revegetation of surroundings, return of wild birds, development of ecosystems, etc.) due to the retention of fresh water and use of an integrated approach across the different valleys is also a very specific interest in environmental terms.

By the end of the project, PAPIL will have enabled construction of 58 salt-exclusion schemes, the recovery of 6,983 hectares of salinized land and the protection of 11,500 hectares of land from salt-water intrusion, said the Senegalese Agriculture Minister, Abdoulaye Baldé, responding in the National Assembly to a question from a parliamentarian on the salinization of cultivable land.

The 223 basic socio-economic infrastructure projects completed consist of health centres, schoolrooms, water infrastructure, harvesting and post-harvest equipment and storage facilities. In terms of capacity-building, 11,000 farmers have been trained.

Implementation of PAPIL has led to the emergence of development clusters around scheme sites, giving rise to new economic activities. It has also been accompanied by sustainable and concerted management of natural resources and agricultural, forestry and pasture lands, also taking account of the effects of climate change.

Implementation of local development fund activities created within the project has also contributed to meeting the essential needs of the population in terms of access to basic social services and relief of tasks often allotted to women.

Small-scale irrigation, an appropriate response to combat poverty

In light of the positive results of the PAPIL project, the development of small-scale irrigation at the local level seems an appropriate response to combat poverty. Strategic reflection, begun with regard to recovering run-off and drawing on the experience of PAPIL, should in time lead to the development of a national programme covering every region of the country.

PAPIL is winning other battles in the southeast corner of Senegal

Located in the extreme southeast of Senegal, the region of Kédougou extends over 16,896 square kilometres and has a population of some 152,134 (2013 figure). The demographic structure reveals a preponderance of men (53%, versus 47% women). As in the rest of the country, the population is young: those aged under 20 account for more than half the population. In terms of ethnicities, the most represented groups are the Fula and the Mandingo peoples (Malinke and Jakhanke). Other, so-called minority ethnic groups are also present, mainly formed of Bassari, Bedick and Koniagui people.

Half of this population is concentrated in the Department of Kédougou, which accounts for some 36% of the surface area of the region, which has three Departments. After this, in order of population density, come the Departments of Saraya (36% of the total population of Kédougou on 52% of its land area) and Salémata (14% on 12% of the land area of the region).

An agricultural sector with high potential

The agricultural sector, so important for the region’s food security and identity, is at the heart of the regional economy. Indeed, with its major irrigation resources, Kédougou remains an agricultural area. It enjoys abundant rainfall, with an annual average of 1,200 mm, and a dense drainage network consisting of two permanent watercourses, the Gambia and the Falémé rivers, and hundreds of rivers and ponds. It has abundant fertile but poorly exploited land.

According to the 2013 census, agriculture is the occupation of 69% of households. Maize, rice, sorghum, fonio, peanut and cotton are grown there. Cereal production grew in 2013, 2014 and 2015, increasing from 14,962 to 27,801 tonnes, particularly thanks to agricultural programmes and projects. Maize remains the main crop, accounting for 68% of cereal production (18,810 tonnes harvested in 2012-2013).

Thanks to PAPIL, rice planting, which increased from 300 hectares in 2010 to 1,600 ha in 2014 and 1,850 ha in 2015, produced 900 tonnes in 2010 and 5,100 tonnes in 2014. A further 6,500 tonnes of paddy rice were harvested in 2015 with an estimated commercial value of at least 950 million CFA francs.

On top of this strong rice production that is well appreciated by the region’s stakeholders (producers, authorities and partners), there is market gardening production. Production per product ranges from 742 kilograms for tomatoes to 6,535 kg for onions. It was Itato, a project pilot site on the banks of the River Gambia, that registered the biggest vegetable production marketed: 21,688 kg in 2013-2014 from a cultivated surface area of 3 hectares. The commercial value of this production varies from 408,100 CFA francs for tomatoes to 6,426 million CFA francs for cabbage and up to 3,606 million CFA francs for aubergines. Total vegetable revenues reached 21,187,950 CFA francs in 2013-2014.  

This significant rice and vegetable production, with performance that is appreciated by producers, was facilitated through achievements that contribute to improving the food security of beneficiary populations, their incomes and the movement of goods and services; and to lightening the domestic work of women and better mobilising water for agricultural and pastoral purposes. Among these achievements, 471 hectares have been developed, including 440 ha of rice-producing lowlands and 30 ha of market gardens; 21 agricultural machines have been introduced (tractors, harvesters, threshers, cereal mills); and 9 water retention works.

More than significant achievements

The populations of villages benefiting from managed sites have been able to measure the impact of PAPIL. The project has particularly contributed to significantly increasing the potential of cultivable land, which has increased in area to 4,000 hectares in 2011, compared to 241 hectares in 2003; to increasing rice yields to 3 to 6 tonnes per hectare (t/ha), compared with 1 t/ha in 2003; to developing rice production to 21,370 tonnes in 2015, compared to 15,750 tonnes in 2011 and 810 tonnes in 2007. The project has also contributed to developing vegetable production with 7,427 tonnes harvested in 2015, compared to 4,650 tonnes in 2011 and 460 tonnes in 2007; and to achieving self-sufficiency in rice for a period of 6 to 8 months. As a result of the project, more than 7,000 farmers have seen their incomes increase by over 50 per cent.

From 2013 to 2015, 27 salt protection projects were built to recover 2,950 hectares and to protect another 4,425 hectares against the advance of salt water deeply intruding into river beds. Building low-cost, small water-control structures with considerable economic and social impact has enabled three cropping seasons a year in some places.

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