Climate change is plunging Senegal’s herders into poverty
A 46-year-old Fulani pastoralist/herder returned to his village in Senegal’s northern Podor County after 10 months away with just half the number of sheep, cattle, and donkeys he set out with.
Losing half the herd means Saidou lost half his wealth. A year ago, he was not badly off, able to comfortably support his family. Now, because of the toll climate change has taken, coupled with a government ill-equipped to deal with the fallout, he’s bordering on poverty.
Six million people in the Sahel faced severe food shortages in a prolonged lean season between January and August this year; Senegal was one of the three worst affected countries in the region. It may get worse yet, as the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 2.5 million livestock herders, or “pastoralists,” and those who raise both livestock and crops in the Sahel risk losing their income.
As soon as the rainy season ended last September, it became clear that erratic rainfall had led to diminished pasture across the Sahel. This forced northern herders like Saidou, who normally begin travelling south in January or February, to embark on their annual journey up to four months early, and in far greater numbers than usual.
Seasonal migration – which helps over-grazed regions recover by temporarily shifting the burden to areas with more pasture – is common way of life for the Fulani, one of the Sahel’s largest ethnic groups. But as the length of the migration period and the distance herders are forced to travel to find food and water for their livestock increases, their economic well-being and very way of life are at risk.
Life in pastoral communities revolves around their main source of financial capital: the herd. So when animals are placed under stress, the social fabric also suffers.
In the last five years, some areas in Senegal have reported decreases of between 50 and 100 percent in crops and grazing areas. This led to a spike in the demand for manufactured animal feed this year, which sent prices skyrocketing. A 40 kg sack of feed that cost around 7,000 CFA ($12) in October 2017 had risen to 13,000 CFA ($23) by March. Herders had to sell off animals to buy feed to sustain the rest of their herds, leaving a severe dent in their wealth.
In addition, livestock prices plummeted due to desperate herders bringing large numbers of animals to market. Cattle, sheep, and goats fetched half the price they had four months earlier; by March in Ranerou, a sack of feed cost more than a sheep.
Then on 27 June, Senegal’s first rains came, accompanied by an unseasonably cold wind. Tens of thousands of animals died in the space of a day as the long-awaited rains became a killer. Some herders lost everything.
The very real struggle for survival by millions of ordinary, hard-working people across the globe resultant upon climate change effects should be seen against the dismissive, arrogant and impossibly ignorant pronouncements by the US President Trump concerning the issue of climate change. It is incomprehensible for untold millions of people globally that the USA continues to allow its leader to destroy the future of our Earth and its people. Just yesterday President Trump sought to cast doubt on the latest UN Climate Change Report by seeking to cast aspersions upon the more than 91 scientists who compiled the report. It seems remarkable that a man who has been described as a buffoon should have the gall to seek to place his severely limited opinions above those of respected international scientists for no apparent purpose other than to facilitate the financial success of his political supporters.