African Communities Struggle with Salinization of Rice Fields Due to Rising Seas: A Story of Resilience and Survival in Senegal

2024-04-21 16:29:00

By Modou Fall

Diembéring, April 21 (APS) – The salinity of water and soil, following the advance of the sea and the drop in rainfall, endangers rainfed rice cultivation, the main subsistence agricultural activity of the communities of Diembéring, in southern Senegal, who inherited it from their ancestors.

Natural phenomena have led to profound socio-economic and environmental upheavals in this commune in the district of Kabrousse, in the department of Oussouye.

Located on the southern coast, a particularly vulnerable area and very affected by coastal erosion accentuated by the advance of the sea, the Diembéring commune has gradually seen its beach and its plant cover disappear under the waters. The path thus becomes more and more clear for the sea water which, little by little, progresses towards the rice fields.

A process which leads to the salinization of rice plots in this commune of Lower Casamance, to the point of calling into question rice growing, the main subsistence agricultural activity of local communities.

In Diembéring, as everywhere else in Casamance, rainfed rice cultivation remains the dominant agricultural activity with around 60% of cultivated areas. However, the deterioration of climatic conditions in the area since the end of the 1960s has put a strain on this activity, whose current production is barely able to cover the food needs of a population that is increasingly in difficulty.

”Our rice fields are under water. We can no longer cultivate properly. The sea has taken our arable land. We are really in difficulties. The State must react to slow down the advance of the sea,” implores Bineta Sylla. Found on the edge of Diembéring beach, Bineta devotes herself to smoking fish.

She says she gave up rice farming to start this activity. She declares that she no longer has a rice field, much less another plot of land to engage in market gardening.

With an area of ​​237 square kilometers, the commune of Diembéring has 20,924 inhabitants. A population distributed between around fifteen villages and islands: Ourong, Carabane, Cachouane, Gnikine, Sifoka, Wendaye, and Ehidj. Localities which, for the most part, are located between the sea and the mouth of the Casamance River.

”In Diembéring, the situation is worrying. Our rice fields are being swallowed up by the sea. We risk dying of hunger because, today, our greatest threat to survival comes from the sea,” worries Daniel Diatta, a notable in this area. place of community.

Sitting on the edge of the beach, the old man is concerned about ‘the rise in sea level and the loss of rice plots’.

In Kabrousse, more than 4,000 ha of rice swallowed up by the sea

In Kabrousse, one of the coastal villages of the commune of Diembéring, south of the seaside resort of Cap Skirring, the encroachment of the sea has finished engulfing thousands of hectares of rice fields, generally located in lowlands or valleys.

Here, the consequences of rising sea levels are visible just a stone’s throw from the beach and directly threaten the existence of the rice-growing activities of thousands of farmers.

”The rice fields of the village of Kabrousse extend over 5,000 hectares, including 4,600 ha occupied by the sea,” informs Ababacar Bernard Diatta, chief of staff of the mayor of Diembéring. Originally from this village where he lives with his family, he indicates that nearly 400 hectares of rice fields still escape the rising waters.

However, ”if we fold our arms, rice growing will soon be an old story in Kabrousse, where once 2,130 rice farmers engaged in rice growing activities during the winter,” he predicts.

”In Kabrousse, a good part of the rice fields are swallowed up by the sea. So, it is obvious that, within a few years, we risk no longer having an area suitable for rice cultivation,” he warns again. . He points out that several indigenous farmers already no longer have rice fields. ”The sea has swallowed up our rice fields, at least over a kilometer,” he reveals.

Today, ”the village’s economy is slowing down and in danger,” he is alarmed. Ababacar Bernard Diatta believes that in the event of the disappearance of the ancestral rice-growing activities carried out here for centuries, ”it is the soul of the village of Kabrousse itself which also disappears”. ”Here, everything is linked to the cultivation of rice,” recalls the chief of staff of the mayor of the commune of Diembéring.

In Kabrousse, village of the historical figure Aline Sitoé Diatta (1920-1944), heroine of the anti-colonial struggle, the advance of the sea has also finished submerging almost all of the areas dedicated to rice-growing activities.

Hectares of rice plots under water in Ourong

An island area par excellence, Ourong is a peaceful and calm village, populated by nearly 950 inhabitants. Accessible by canoe, the island offers a decor of hard and clay houses.

After a crossing of at least an hour through bolongs (word for channel in Casamance) covered with mangroves, a team of APS journalists finally arrived on the island. Silence everywhere. Only the chirping of birds resonates.

Ourong, like the other islands visited in the commune of Diembéring, notably Diogué, Cachouane, Gnikine and Carabane, also suffers from the rapid advance of the sea.

”In Ourong, as in the other islands of the commune of Diembéring, hectares of rice plots are under water,” indicates Babacar Dji Coly, communications manager for the Project to strengthen the economic and environmental resilience of the coastal zones of the Casamance base (REEZO).

He informs that mangrove reforestation activities were carried out as part of this project with the islanders, to reduce the salinity of arable land.

Seizing this opportunity, the local populations asked for help from the central State, so that their ”habitations” and their ”rice-growing areas” are not erased from the map of Senegal, due to ”the great vulnerability” of the southern coastline, faced with the rapid advance of the sea.


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