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The Ecovillage of Salayel Loobaudou Shows the Way in the Sahel
Situated in the administrative region of Brakna, in the south of Mauritania and on the border of the Tiger Senegal, the village of Salayel Loboudou (in Pulaar the name means little bridge of the corner), is in the middle of succeeding in a silent green revolution from which the entire Sahel should draw inspiration.
Like the majority of villages in the south of the Sahara, Salayel Loboudou had been cruelly struck in the 1970s and 1980s by a recurrent cycles of droughts, which bring with them a litany of tragedies that the people of the Sahel know all too well : the erosion of cultivable soil, sandstorms, massive and rapid destruction of animal life and of livestock, chronic pauperism of the populations and rural exodus, etc. etc. It was to break this nightmarish cycle that the community of Salayel, which is inhabited by some 900 people, opted for action and took control of its own destiny.
In 2005, under the impetus of their village chief, Aly Ly (a teacher by profession), and after many village meetings, the inhabitants of Salayel decided to create a small forest reserve of 18 hectares. Some among them had to renounce a part of the fields so that the project could come into being. Next, the site was enfenced so as to protect against straying animals. After a decade of concerted action and of patience, nature miraculously retook its rightful place : the reserve, entirely composed of local plant species, is today a patch of forest, luxuriant and prosperous. Wild animals that are no longer elsewhere seen have returned : warthogs, monkeys, geese, partridges, and other types of birds, are all present in the patch of forest. Bee colonies have taken root in the forest, contributing to the invaluable work of plant fertilization. The surrounding running water has become full of fish thanks to an abundance of nutrition (grass, flowers, and insects) which originates from the reserve, and this bounty has also increasingly attracted fishing birds to the waters. The livestock of the village has benefitted from this with sufficient fodder and food so as to remain well-fed throughout all the seasons. Beekeeping is already in an experimental stage, and can look forwards to a rosy not-too-distant future of great prosperity. Eco-tourism has been developing, generating financial proceeds that the community has been principally re-investing within social education.
The living hedge constituted by the forestry reserve has tamed the sand storms and the heat waves which blow in from the Sahara. It has cooled the interior of the reserve, and even to some extent the village. Today, it is easy to see the advantages that are accrued from the forest, and resultantly the entirety of the community of Salayel is committed to the ideal of protecting their natural patrimony against poachers and against charcoal producers, and are united around the vision of extending the project into the western part of the village.
Salayel Lobodou, an active member of Réseal Mondial de Ecovillages (World Ecovillages Network), which boasts some 17,000 communities which dot the world, has played a primary role in the emergence of the Réseau Mondiale de Ecovillages ode Mauritanie, led by president Brakna Sow Moctar, the honorable deputy of the region of Brakna. The example of Salayel, in the same model as that of the ecovillages of Sekem (Egypt) and of Auroville (India), both formerly deserts but today having evolved into little earthly paradises in the space of but a generation, shows firstly that desertification is not inevitable, nor a pretext to do nothing, and secondly that the fight for the preservation of biodiversity does not require extensive financial means. It is rather a question of determination and will and the involvement of local communities. Salayel, the model ecovillage south of the Sahara, should inspire the hamlets, the villages, and the cities of the Sahel as well as regional politics in the struggle against the advance of the desert.
Dr Ousmane Aly PAME
Présidant de la Section Africaine du Réseau Mondial des Ecovillages (President of the African Section of the Global Ecovillages Network) www. gen-africa.org / www.ecovillage.org
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