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A Practitioner's View of Conservation and Development in Africa: Integrated Management and the Djoudj National Park in Senegal
Conservation and development are inextricably linked in Africa. The continent's rural communities, in which live the majority of its people, are heavily, if not entirely, dependant on natural resources: with limited access to financial capital and technology, the natural resource base is often their only asset. This means nearly all of their activities place demands on the environment. Development without attention to sustainability could increase the use of natural resources to the point where the resource base is irrevocably exhausted.
Theorizing about these relationships is far different from trying to run a sustainable conservation and development project on the ground. I had the opportunity to be involved in the Djoudj National Park management program in Senegal as the country representative of the World Conservation Union (IUCN). The experience of being a practitioner in the field of conservation and sustainable development helped me to learn a good many lessons about the relationship between the developed world and the developing, and about the role of local communities in conservation. This work attempts to provide the background to the Djoudj project, my involvement in it, and how conservation policy is evolving in Africa.
The Senegal River is crucial to the economics and biodiversity of a wide region in West Africa. Four countries share the Senegal River. It originates in Guinea, crosses parts of Mali, and serves as a border between Senegal and Mauritania. The river has served as one of the main routes for the colonization of these four countries by the French. These countries came together to create the "Organization des Etats Riverains du fleuve Senegal," [End Page 101] which was later replaced by the "Organization pour la Mise en Valeur du fleuve Senegal" (OMVS) after Guinea pulled out of the first named organization. The mission of OMVS is to promote cooperation between Mali, Mauritania, and Senegal for the sharing of their river waters.
The Senegal River features high on these governments' policy lists due to its key position in the supply of food. One of the main challenges confronting the Senegalese government is food security. Since the Sahelian drought in the 1970s, governments' policy solutions to food security have focused especially on the Senegal River. The Senegal River Basin (SRB) is the most important river system in the country, with the greatest potential for food production. Therefore, the Senegalese government's plan is to develop rice production in the Senegal river valley, to supply the country with this preferred cereal, and to reduce the heavy rice imports that are very costly to the country's economy. (The Senegal valley on both sides of Mauritania and Senegal, including the area surrounding the park, has been extensively developed for irrigated agriculture.) This is one of the main reasons for the construction of two dams in the 1980s. The OMVS completed the Diama dam at the mouth of the river in the delta (see map). This dam is an antisalt dam designed to stop the intrusion of the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, which used to travel several miles upstream during periods of low stream flows. The second dam, called Manantali, is located in one of the river's tributaries in Mali. The Manantali dam is built to regulate the river flow for irrigation, hydropower generation, and navigation.
The Djoudj National Park (PNOD) preceded the construction of the two dams, but was no less controversial. Created in 1971 in the delta ecosystem of the Senegal River basin, the park is made of several small, interconnected lakes that are ultimately connected to the main river channel. The total surface area of the park is sixteen thousand hectares. As has happened in many other parts of the world, the Senegalese government evicted all villagers from the area of the park upon its creation. Many of these villages were located on the periphery of the park, but...