Better environment: Cultivating adaptation in Senegal, a SAGA for a better future

By Dr Gouantoueu Robert Guei, Sub-Regional Coordinator for West Africa and FAO Representative in Senegal

Poor rainfall, desertification and climatic shocks are threatening the livelihoods of smallholders in Senegal. Innovative solutions for a better environment are being developed through an ‘Integrated Resilience Garden’ in Oudalaye, Matam. ©Denise Tremblay / CECI Senegal


On 25 January 2023, I visited Pandiénou, a village in the Thiès region of western Senegal, together with Québec's Minister of International Relations and La Francophonie, Martine Biron. During this visit to a Farmer Field School (FFS), we met local women and youth who face the impacts of climate change on a daily basis. I listened to their stories and learned about the benefits of hands-on group learning. Pandiénou is more than a village; it encapsulates both the challenges facing smallholder farmers across Senegal and the solutions to tackle the climate crisis that exist within communities. I witnessed firsthand how the FAO Strengthening Agricultural Adaptation (SAGA) project fosters community engagement, resilient agriculture, and sustainable development.

Agriculture is the backbone of rural communities in Senegal. Agricultural sectors employ over 27 percent of the working population, but this lifeline is under threat. Pandiénou, much like its neighboring villages, stands as a testament to the deep relationship between people and the environment. The rhythm of life here is marked by the cultivation of millet, peanuts, and sorghum. Yet, shifts in weather patterns, characterized by increasingly variable rainfall, soaring temperatures, and encroaching desertification, have put increasing pressure on the livelihoods and incomes of small-scale food producers. With the climate crisis casting a shadow over the future of food security in these areas, the need to empower small-scale food producers to adapt has become a pressing reality.

Left/Top: Saré Bidji, Kolda, Senegal - Mamadiang Mballo and Fatoumata Kandé both work as beekeepers and are finding new ways of working together after attending a gender-sensitive, FAO farmer field school training. ©FAO/Yacine Cissé. Right/Bottom: Keur Socé, Kaolack, Senegal - Seynabou displays the fruits of her labour. Together with fellow small-scale food producers, she is investing in a network of 40 market garden areas managed exclusively by women, helping to make local communities more resilient to climate change. ©FAO/Yacine Cissé.

It is in this context that the SAGA project has emerged as a beacon of hope. Funded by the provincial Government of Quebec and implemented by FAO in collaboration with a range of partners, SAGA builds farmers’ capacities to adapt to climate change, ensuring that communities, in particular women and youth, have access to vital ecosystem services, while promoting their sustainability. SAGA resonates deeply with FAO’s Strategic Framework and the pursuit of a better environment, which pledges to protect, restore, and promote the sustainable use of terrestrial and marine ecosystems while combating climate change.

The project implements a broad range of initiatives that strengthen the resilience of small-scale food producers including gender-sensitive Farmer Field Schools, soil health training initiatives, and community-based natural resource management initiatives. Participants engage in activities ranging from market gardening, animal husbandry, and beekeeping, to agroforestry, soil and pastoral pond regeneration practices, rainwater harvesting, reforestation, and the production of energy-efficient vegetable charcoal which safeguards forests. Through training and community-based participatory approaches across eight regions of Senegal, the project has reached more than 1000 women and 480 men.

For instance, in the Casamance region in the south of Senegal, the CasaMiel initiative has reached 277 beekeepers, strengthening livelihoods and community resilience. By embracing modern production techniques and sustainable use of natural resources, yields in the region have tripled for the local partner, the CAC/Miel cooperative, going from 2,816 liters of honey sold in 2019, to 8,840 liters in 2021.

Efforts under SAGA have cut across traditional sectors, yielding cross-cutting benefits that touch on climate adaptation, gender equality, food security, and biodiversity conservation. For example, initiatives like CasaMiel don't just produce more honey or boost biodiversity; they also empower women in rural communities. The gender-sensitive components of the Farmer Field Schools promote discussions on self-esteem, leadership, and communication, spreading the understanding of the fundamental role that women play in agriculture and adaptation to climate change.

Québec's Minister of International Relations and La Francophonie, Martine Biron, and Sub-Regional Coordinator for West Africa and FAO Representative in Senegal, Dr Gouantoueu Robert Guei, on SAGA field visit. ©FAO/Yacine Cissé

Building bridges between communities and policymakers

The SAGA experience has demonstrated that many answers lie within the communities themselves. As the project's impact continues to unfold across Senegal, the successes achieved offer more than just solutions; they offer knowledge and inspiration for the development of policy pathways and adaptation strategies, building bridges between communities and policymakers.

The results and lessons learned documented through these initiatives are informing adaptation planning across Senegal, which the project is supporting in parallel, and building strong foundations for the future. For example, SAGA supported the development of an implementation plan for the nationally determined contribution (NDC), two regional adaptation action plans (Kolda; Louga and Thiès regions) and the formulation of the National Adaptation Plan for agriculture (NAP-Ag). The project has also facilitated the completion of nine evaluations on vulnerability to climate change; scenarios and potential for resilience in the water, livestock, and agroforestry sectors and adaptation options in agriculture.

Coordinating efforts for a sustainable and food secure world

FAO’s inclusive approach and expertise in cultivating strategic partnerships is fundamental to SAGA’s success. By uniting local communities, research institutions, civil organizations, and government bodies, sectoral silos are broken. The synergies formed across different stakeholders amplify the project's impact, ensuring a legacy of enduring change and sustainability long after the project concludes.

In my view, the essence of FAO’s Strategic Framework and its "Four Betters" lies in their profound interconnectedness. A better environment forms an intricate tapestry woven with threads of better production, better nutrition, and better lives. This project is a testament to the fact that these pillars depend on one another for their success. To achieve our objectives, we must work together to elevate all aspects of the agricultural ecosystem securing wide-ranging economic, social, and environmental benefits across the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), leaving no one behind.

SAGA: A call to action for regions facing similar challenges

In Senegal, the stories of transformation are countless. But they all share a common thread – a tale of partnership, resilience, and hope for a brighter, greener future. Now, it’s time to scale up.

The SAGA project stands at an exciting juncture as it prepares to embark on its second phase in Senegal, Haiti and Côte d’Ivoire. There's palpable hope and evidence to inspire other regions both within and beyond Senegal’s borders.

10. Reduced inequalities, 12. Responsible consumption and production, 13. Climate action