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January 26, 2009

Senegalese farmers grapple with unpredictable weather patterns

Senegalese farmers are feeling the impact of erratic weather patterns.

Paul Thiao, farmer and regional coordinator of the Senegalese Federation of NGOs (FONGS), which represents 32 farmer associations, spoke about the weather-related challenges rural communities face.

"In the past, people followed traditional ways to plan for the [agricultural] seasons. The village elders would interpret the position of the stars to know when the rains would start and finish. “If a certain bird sang or the tamarind or baobab tree started to grow leaves, then you knew the rain would come. “The predictions of the village elder used to be our reference point, but now the system has been disturbed. "

"People still look for these [traditional] signs but they are no longer completely reliable. People are troubled. “You plant your seeds and then the rain does not come. So next year you change your approach and you plant later. But the rain comes earlier. Farmers have become gamblers. Now they must take a gamble on when the rain will come. But they are gambling with their livelihoods. "

“Irrigation farmers on the Senegal River tease their southern cousins: I cannot understand why you dare to depend on the rain! “But people in seven of Senegal’s 11 regions depend on rain for their crops. “We have been experiencing big changes since 1972. We had years with virtually no rain at all. Lots of livestock died and people left the countryside for the city. “Since then, things have not returned to normal. Now farmers say: ‘If you have a good rainy season this year, don't expect anything for next year.’

“People link the changes they see with the disappearance of the trees. Often there is no further explanation. The religious leaders say it is because people are sinning. “But the traditional signs are still valuable to the farmers. So we need to try to connect the science with the perspective of small-scale farmers. This will help researchers and scientists to understand what farmers need."

“People are aware of climate change. They see the effects all around them, but do not know the science behind the phenomenon. Now we must work on education to show how things are connected – that when you burn fuel, it goes into the atmosphere and causes damage. “We do not feel responsible, but we are in fact responsible. Some people think this is just a bad cycle and that next year things will get better. But we must change the way we do things now. We must ask ourselves: What is the impact of my activity?


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