Action Against Desertification

Two Belgian students assess the impact of Action Against Desertification in Senegal

FAO and university UCL work together in support of the Great Green Wall


Rome - Lola Vrydagh and Maxime Vankoningsloo travelled to Senegal to assess the impact of land restoration activities of Action Against Desertification. With their work, the students from UCL (Université Catholique de Louvain) reinforce partnership between UCL and FAO, aiming to build bridges between science and development in support of the climate. In this report, Lola and Maxime tell about their experience.

“We have been in touch with nature since we were very young, so it was always clear to us what kind of studies we wanted to do. Five years ago, we chose to become bioengineers at the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL) and to orient ourselves to the management of natural areas and forests.

At the end of our training, we wanted to do something out of the ordinary. Thanks to the partnership between UCL and FAO we had the opportunity to write our thesis about the environmental and socio-economic impact of Action Against Desertification (AAD) in Senegal.

End January 2019, we travelled to the Ferlo region in the north-east of the country to join the AAD team in Senegal for six weeks. After a week of preparations and meetings in Dakar, we set out to our destination at the heart of the Peul communities.

We did a field survey of the plots restored by the project. At the same time, we conducted interviews on socio-economic issues with the local population and with project stakeholders that we encountered in the area.

We spent our first week in Koyli-Alpha, a rural village in the commune of Mboula, where we studied the communal reserve. Its herb layer is so thick that it was impossible for us to come back to the village without half a kilo of spines (“picots du diable”, or Cenchrus) attached to our shoes. Talking to the locals, sitting on the back of a cart or in the shade of a baobab, we started to understand more about the challenges of living in arid and silvo-pastoral areas.

We continued our assessment in Widou in the comune of Téssékéré. For the next three weeks, we concentrated on the women’s group established with the support of AAD. Thanks to the women we  discovered Balanites, or desert date, a tree from the Sahel region that produces oil from which you can make soap. By making and selling soap, the women generate significant extra income for their families.

We also studied, between one sand storm and another, the plots that were restored by the project, observing first-hand the results of the sowing, reforestation and fencing. At the same time, we were able to observe the impressive herds of zebus around the troughs. And, over a traditional sweet tea, we learned more about the particular way life of the herdsmen.

Our stay in Senegal ended with one week in Dakar, where we presented our preliminary results and followed value chain of Balanites soap, witnessing the sale of soap in the biggest city of the country.

Now, the second part of our task awaits us. We are going to analyse and interpret all the data that we collected during our stay in order to defend our thesis in Louvain in June.

We would like to thank the team of AAD and FAO to have made this inmersion possible, which is very important for our work, and to have allowed us to witness a reality so distant from our own.”