Beyond the local: The geographical spread of climate change impacts in the Bassari landscape (Senegal)

The Bassari are a group of agriculturalists who live in the South West of Senegal, in the Kédougou region. Hunter-gatherers until the last century, the Bassari nowadays practice extensive agriculture, alternating crops with fallow areas. Among the many threats to Bassari traditional agricultural system, we recorded one that goes beyond the local: the arrival of transhumance herders coming from the North of Senegal, where demographic increase and the decrease in rain has affected pasture availability.

Khaya senegalensis -“atyes” in Bassari language, pruned by transhumant pastoralists to obtain fodder

From October 2019, LICCI core team member Anna Porcuna and her partner, Benjamin Klappoth, have been conducting research among the Bassari, an ethnic group of about 22.000 people found in Senegal and Guinea. Anna’s research aims to understand how the agricultural system of the Bassari from the village of Ethiolo, Senegal, is impacted by climate change.  The village of Ethiolo, in the region of Kédougou, is situated in a hilly region characterized by a tropical dry or savannah climate type. The Bassari of Ethiolo practice subsistence farming and their agriculture is rain-fed and mostly cereal-based, with some cultivation of vegetables and legumes. Climatological research in the area shows clear climate change trends, including an increase in temperature and changes in precipitation. The Bassari, themselves, also perceive many local impacts of climate change, including a shorter rainy season and the earlier dry out of seasonal rivers. 

However, the Bassari also mentioned other threats to their livelihood, and particularly the encroachment of their lands by transhumant pastoralists coming from the North of Senegal. According to the Bassari, in the last 10 years, transhumant pastoralists have started to bring their livestock to pasture in Bassari fallow fields and forests. Respondents reported that the arrival of transhumant pastoralists has resulted in a deforestation increase, an increase in the frequency and intensity of wild fires, and an intensification of livestock illnesses.  

While the Bassari do not link the arrival of the pastoralists to changes in the local climatic system, far away from Bassari land, in the North of Senegal, demographic increase and precipitation decrease have affected the availability of pasture, leading to a shift of pasture mobility patterns. Notably, transhumant herders are nowadays moving more and more to the South to find fresh fodder for their sheep. Not familiar with the functioning of the local ecosystem inhabited by the Bassari and reticent to change their management practices, the transhumant pastoralists use of Bassari landscape seems to be having many negative impacts. The Bassari complain that transhumant pastoralists do not follow traditional forest-management techniques that have for long time helped them preserve the forest. For example, to feed their herds, pastoralists from the Nord extensively cut big branches from the tree, thus damaging the tree. Moreover, they do not separate the cut branches from the tree trunks, thus increasing changes of tree burning during wild fire season.

The example shows how climate change impacts that might be perceived locally (i.e., drought in the Northern regions) can have an impact that goes far beyond the local (in this case through the increased mobility of transhumance herders), affecting the intensity of climate change impacts in a different geographical area (i.e., the Bassari landscape). 

Picture above: Focus Group Discussion about crop and landrace traits. Picture on the left: the LICCI team working with the Bassari. From left to right: Susanne, Pascal, Viki, Anna and Benjamin.