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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 April 2007, 08:17 GMT 09:17 UK
Senegal fights hunger to save birds
By Jane Deith
BBC News, Senegal

Arona Fall
A former fisherman, Mr Falls now takes tourists on bird watching trips
Arona Fall lives beside the Langue de Barbarie national park, a sandy peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and the Senegal River.

The Senegalese delta is rich in shrimps and fish, and attracts thousands of migratory birds who come to feed, rest and reproduce.

Like most men here Mr Falls used to be a fisherman. But it was a struggle to feed his family

Now he is a national park eco-guard - and a trained ornithologist.

He uses his fishing boat to take tourists on bird watching trips, telling them about the pelicans, herons, egrets and ospreys.

Arona believes eco-tourism is a good thing for Senegal. But it is not just his own future he is thinking about.

"It's our environment. It's our inheritance. It's up to us to conserve our biodiversity."


But not everyone agrees with Arona.

Mamadou Sidibe,
People need to eat. You can't tackle the environment unless you tackle hunger
Mamadou Sidibe
Park conservator

Millions of Senegalese have no jobs, and no money for electricity or food - many villagers say worrying about the environment is a luxury they cannot afford. Poverty forces them to fish illegally inside the park, and cut down the trees for firewood.

Armed park workers, with military training, try to stop the poachers.

Despite the military presence, the park's conservator Mamadou Sidibe insists he wants to find a compromise which helps villagers and conserves the fragile ecosystem of the Langue de Barbarie.

He allows limited fishing inside the park - the men are able to catch enough fish to feed their families. This is something which is not permitted in any other national park in Senegal.

And he helps the fishermen earn extra money as tourist guides.

"People need to eat. They need food in their stomachs before they can think about the environment. You can't tackle the environment unless you tackle hunger."


Although the park authorities allow local people to use some of its natural resources, some villagers still resent it.

bird count
Thousands of migratory birds come to Langue de Barbarie

They say the Langue de Barbarie national park only benefits the white tourists.

And it is true, most of the money made from tourism never touches Senegalese soil.

But now people on the Langue de Barbarie are being given a financial stake in its success.

US Peace Corp volunteer Nat Parker has spent two years recruiting men and women from seven surrounding villages to work in the park as eco-guards.

They plant trees, carry out bird counts and look after tourists.

On top of their wages, the park also ploughs 15% of its profits into a community fund which offers loans and credit for services such as healthcare.

Mr Parker describes himself as a small business consultant.

He holds workshops in Wolof - the local language - teaching the staff the basics of management, hospitality and marketing.

The park now has a restaurant, regular boat tours and a website.

And visitor numbers are up.

Ongoing battle

Mr Parker is convinced lifting people out of poverty is the key to conservation.


"We have to look after the population as much as the park. Ecology won't work if it's at the detriment of local people," he says.

Yet the environment is not high on Senegal's list of priorities.

A canal built in 2002 to prevent flooding in the city of St Louis, is letting seawater into the park, killing freshwater fish and eroding the sand where the birds lay their eggs.

And the Diama dam, which irrigates farmers fields, means fish cannot swim down river to the park.

There is a long way to go to change attitudes towards conservation in Senegal.

But Mr Parker's vision of sustainable tourism is a park the villagers can conserve and develop themselves, to lift themselves out of poverty.

For many, life here has not been sustainable.

Every week men desperate for work leave Senegal in packed fishing boats, and die attempting to reach Spain illegally.

If the Langue be Barbarie can protect its rare birds and fish, and make eco-tourism work, more people will be able to earn enough to live, and to stay in Senegal.

Country profile: Senegal
02 Mar 07 |  Country profiles

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