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A tale of successes and new challenges in Senegal: Q&A with ICCA coordinator Salatou Sambou

Salatou Sambou

Salatou Sambou, Regional Coordinator for the Marine and Coastal Ecosystems of West Africa. Image courtesy of Salatou Sambou.

  • The Kawawana conserved area (ICCA) was created by a group of Indigenous Jola fishers in Casamance. After almost ten years, they have succeeded in restoring an area where biodiversity had all but disappeared.
  • Now that biodiversity and resources have recovered, life in the village has become more secure. The model’s success has also encouraged young people to return and to renew their commitment to its conservation.
  • But the ICCA has also come up against many challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, state indifference to poachers and climate change, since Mongabay’s last reporting in 2018.
  • Mongabay interviewed Salatou Sambou, ICCA coordinator involved in the Kawawana conserved area, about the recent successes and challenges the ICCA is facing.

Salatou Sambou, a fisherman and father of five, has been involved in the Kawawana ICCA (Indigenous and Community Conserved Area) in Senegal since 2008. One of the first members of the ICCA consortium, he is now their regional coordinator for marine and coastal ecosystems in West Africa. Thanks to the efforts of local fishermen and Jola communities in Lower Casamance, the consortium has been able to bring the Kawawana ICCA to life.

Now, after becoming the first ICCA officially recognized by regional authorities in Senegal, Kawawana covers a coastal and maritime area of 9,665 hectares (23,882 acres) that are entirely governed, managed and maintained by local communities.

Years of hard work has led to the return of wildlife to the Kawawana’s river and marine habitats, earning the project international recognition. The region’s brackish waters are home to a unique and fragile ecosystem that has been greatly threatened by human activity. Local fishermen decided to take action to protect their territory and life source, and have succeeded in striking a balance between their need for resources, and the need to protect wildlife. Since Mongabay’s last reporting on the conserved area in 2018, a number of achievements have been made – and a number of challenges are emerging.

A fisherman catches a barracuda from the waters of the Casamance River at sunset, joined by an apprentice. Image by Jennifer O’Mahony for Mongabay.

Today, the rivers of the ICCA have twice as many species of fish as they did 10 years ago, including species such as the giant African threadfin (Polydactylus quadrifilis) and the cassava croaker (Pseudotolithus senegalensis). Kawawana has expanded to include three areas of focus: river, land (covering an area of 20,000 hectares or 49,421 acres), and a community fund.

This is significant, as the ICCA was initially only involved in matters affecting waterways. By creating these focus areas, the ICCA aims to extend local biodiversity conservation areas while providing opportunities for villagers who do not necessarily make a living from fishing.

As a result of these outreach projects, the lives of Kawawana’s residents have improved dramatically. There has been a decrease in youth leaving to metropolitan areas, and the community fund has enabled around 250 people to set up business projects, according to a report by Christian Chatelain and Sylvie Trécourt published in March 2021.

But the ICCA’s successes have not come easily. Issues include an exodus of young people, as well as state and local authority indifference to poachers. Poaching pressure is particularly acute both on the river and on the land, including illegal and unregulated fishing, along with wood cutting and bush fires. On top of this, like many protected areas around the world, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic have had a significant impact on conservation.

Salatou Sambou and the female oyster gatherers of Kawawana. Image courtesy of Salatou Sambou.
In the above map, the red color shows the sacred Mitij bolong (channel), where Kawawana has banned fishing. The beige color shows the bolongs reserved for fishing by the Mangagoulack people, and the yellow shows the Tendouck bolong, where anyone can fish if certain conditions are respected. Image by Kawawana ICCA.

Mongabay interviewed Sambou to learn about the successes and new challenges currently faced by Kawawana since its initial reporting in 2018. We also got an insight into how the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change have affected the ICCA.

Mongabay: What are some of Kawawana’s most recent achievements?

Salatou Sambou: We have a new Mayor [Sekouna Datta, in office since March 2022], and this is the first time that a mayor has truly engaged in monitoring tasks and has committed to surveilling Kawawana. He was also a professor of biology at the University of Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar and provides excellent opportunities for the ICCA. It is very rewarding in terms of both collaboration and input when you have an elected official who understands what you are doing. We were really happy when he said to us: “If time allowed, I would leave my mayoral jacket here and go into the field with you.” This is a first for us!

We are also now working with a government fisheries officer who really understands the importance of community conservation. He goes with us on our monitoring assignments and we are more protected from poachers than before. There is also now a national association of ICCAs in Senegal, which encourages a positive relationship between communities and state services.

Mongabay: Have issues concerning the monitoring of the ICCA been addressed?

Salatou Sambou: We have monitoring equipment that is much more effective than before. We have also improved our surveillance thanks to 25 fully-equipped supervisors who patrol regularly, and we are planning to build watchtowers to give us a good view over the area.

On land, communities of village monitors have been set up. Each village has created communities that monitor the areas closest to them, because the community’s forests are in and around the villages. So, each community patrols the area from time to time to monitor non-compliance, and likewise for river areas.

Kawawana uses a motorboat for surveillance tasks. Image by Jennifer O’Mahony for Mongabay.

Mongabay: Have there been any changes to local regulations?

Salatou Sambou: What has changed from before is that we have authorized the use of small motorized pirogues [small canoe-like boats] to better access resources. We took this decision because we realized that those who have been working since Kawawana’s inception are now older, and can no longer go fishing on the rivers [with the pirogues requiring manual rowing]. Since their lives depend on these resources and they no longer have the energy to go fishing and feed their families, their lives were in danger. By allowing small motorized pirogues, the Kawawana elders were able to continue their work.

There is no risk of overexploitation because the pirogues are small and cannot carry much. Another reason we do not have issues with resources is because we only use them for well-defined needs. As we are not all professional fishermen, we do not all have motorized pirogues. On the other hand, there are periods when the land holds more opportunities for us, and so people migrate to that area. This means that no-one is depleting the resources, and they are being exploited responsibly.

When it comes to outsiders, small motorized pirogues can also be a way of reducing access to certain areas, because they can’t take you everywhere (unlike the villagers’ rowing pirogues, which can go almost anywhere without risk). So, there are few dangers for the locals.

A pirogue being used to collect oysters from the Kawawana mangroves. Image courtesy of Salatou Sambou.

Mongabay: Have you managed to overcome the challenge of youth migrating and leaving to bigger cities for economic opportunities?

Salatou Sambou: Young people have come to understand that to earn a living, you don’t necessarily have to go to the city – that you can earn a living at home. Before, young people wanted to migrate to the city to find government work. But now they know there are no jobs in an industrially underdeveloped nation. The only thing they could do then was to return home to work and make some money.

Since their return, they have really embraced the conservation of Kawawana’s rivers and land, and the community fund. They have to if they want to benefit from it. If they can’t fish or farm, the community fund is there to help them to do business or raise chickens to sell, for example.

Dienaba Diedhiou, an oyster farmer in her 70s, shown here with her grandchildren. Image by Jennifer O’Mahony for Mongabay.

Mongabay: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the ICCA?

Salatou Sambou: COVID-19 did have an impact on Kawawana, because in Senegal when the government announced lockdown measures, people were not allowed to be outside from 8pm until the following morning. The biggest issue for us is that there are no gas stations in Bignona Department or in our arrondissement, Tendouck, so we were not able to carry out surveillance.

Our resources were therefore under more pressure – poachers took advantage of the lockdown and the fact that we had no gas to go out and monitor the area. In addition, the fishers who did have access to fuel also took advantage and overfished. So, it wasn’t the disease that impacted the community, but the decline in resources due to increased poaching and overfishing by non-residents.

Mongabay: How is climate change affecting Kawawana?

Salatou Sambou: Environmental problems are either natural or humanmade. If the water is too salty, for example, fish will move on, and this increased salinization can be due to overfishing in the mangrove.

Overexploitation by humans is something we can manage, but we don’t yet have an appropriate solution to solve the problem of climate change itself. But, of course, we are still trying to see how we can make a difference. Kawawana is now also working in partnership with the Assane Seck University of Ziguinchor, which has offered to help us find solutions to our problems.

In terms of direct impact, between April and May the water is much saltier than usual and the fish are forced upstream. When they do come back in June, this is the most difficult period for us. Many non-residents in bigger pirogues like to come here to fish in this period, because there are a lot of large fish in the mangroves.

The late Ousseynou Sagna, village chief and founding member of the fishermen’s association that created ICCA Kawawana, holds the rostrum (or saw) of a 7-metre sawfish. It has been many years since the fish reached this size locally. Image courtesy of Grazia Borrini-Feyerabend.

Mongabay: Have other communities been able to replicate Kawawana’s success?

Salatou Sambou: The reason there is a national association of ICCAs today is because they have followed Kawawana’s example. There are now 26 ICCAs in Senegal, all of which hope to succeed like Kawawana has.

Of course, we hope that others will be as successful as us, because this helps guarantee Kawawana’s future. We cannot be the only ones with a good outcome, because fish are not a fixed product remaining in one area, they move to different regions. Other ICCAs must also protect them and help marine resources recover.

Banner image: Salatou Sambou, Regional Coordinator for the Marine and Coastal Ecosystems of West Africa. Image courtesy of Salatou Sambou.

This article was first published here on Mongabay-French website on May 30, 2022.