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  • Writer's pictureJane Smith

NFINL No 32:A resume of Landscape of the Year Jan 2020

Updated: Sep 6, 2021

Journey to the Landscape of the Year Senegal / The Gambia in January 2020


This journey has touched us deeply, especially through the encounters with the people, their openness and cordiality as well as the feeling of solidarity among Naturefriends in Africa and Europe.

We liked the international character of the trip very much. We were 33 participants from five European countries (Germany, France, Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland). Mamadou Mbodji from Senegal (Vice President of NFI and Deputy Secretary General of ASAN) and Ingeborg Pint from Austria were our (main) tour guides. They planned, organized and carried out the trip excellently. Very enriching were also the eleven temporary tour guides from Senegal, The Gambia and Guinea, who provided us with a lot of interesting information during the bus trips and the visits to projects. Already at the airport in Dakar a small delegation of the Senegalese Naturefriends welcomed us and drove with us to the Naturefriend House in Petit Mbao near Dakar. There we were warmly welcomed and enjoyed with a delicious dinner.

We were impressed by the attractive Naturefriend House and Environmental Education Centre with solar panels on the roof, inaugurated in 2004. In addition to accommodation, conference and office rooms and a small eco-museum, there is also a tree nursery where 20,000 plants (approx. 40 indigenous species) are grown every year. For more than 30 years, Naturefriends Senegal have been planting these seedlings, first in public and now also in private areas.

With two buses we travelled through Senegal and The Gambia for fourteen days. On the first day we drove on the coastal roads around Dakar with some stops and got a first impression of an African big city. It was warm, dusty, misty and windy. The wind carried a lot of sand with it. First impressions: So many people walking along the road. A lot of traffic and traffic jams. On the road we see overcrowded buses, carriages with horses or donkeys and cars. At the roadside sheep, goats, cattle sheds, stalls, flying merchants. A big cattle market. The women in beautiful colourful dresses, sometimes with babies on their backs or caryying loads on their heads.

We noticed all the (plastic) garbage lying around everywhere. Mamadou said: „Senegal has three big problems: 1. garbage, 2. garbage, 3. garbage.“ We were confronted with these problems on our journey every day. There is still no functioning garbage collection or waste disposal in the country. All the more important is the environmental education work, which e.g. the nature friends in the country perform, so that so much garbage does not develop at all.

On the way to Janjanbureh in The Gambia (main town of the Gambian part of the landscape of the year) we visited the exemplary 'Women’s Initiative Gambia in the small village Njaw.

A large group of women and children welcomed us singing, dancing and drumming and led us into the village. On the village square we were allowed to sit in the shade and listen to the explanations of the local project manager and Isatou Ceesay, the founder of the Women’s Initiative. The women collect plastic bags lying around, clean them and cut them into strips. From these they crochet bags or pencil cases, for example.

They also make soap and sew bags and sell their products in a small shop. In this way the women gain a small additional income and counteract environmental pollution with their creative recycling. They also inform and sensitize other women, for example, about the more careful use of wood. They are now 150 women in the surrounding villages and 11,000 in the region.

We have always been able to see the consequences of climate change with our own eyes. Senegal is situated on the edge of the Sahel zone and this zone is getting closer and closer. It is getting hotter and drier and the water table is sinking. At the village Koumbidja Socé we visited a well, 12 meters deep, which dried up 15 years ago. It would have to be drilled another 8 meters deeper to provide water again. The last rainy season lasted only 1.5 months, normally it takes 3 to 4 months. In recent years, therefore, agricultural yields have fallen massively.

A real highlight of our trip was the joint planting of fruit trees in the village of Yorobelekunda in Gambia. In the yards and gardens of the families the seedlings were planted all together, hand in hand, in the prepared planting holes, supplied with manure and immediately watered. To protect them from hungry goats, protective walls made of stones or wickerwork were installed.

The Senegambian Naturefriends had procured the tree seedlings (mango, lemon and porridge apple tree), financed by a donation from a German Naturefriend. After the unloading of the approx. 300 seedlings from the Naturefriends‘ own bus and the welcome by the village mayor and many curious children, the group was distributed to the individual families.

On a later day – in the village of Koumbidja Socé in Senegal – we visited farms and gardens with trees planted two years ago. The women proudly presented the well grown trees to us.

The diverse impressions and warm encounters have moved us a lot and also made us reflect. What a difference to our standard of living in Germany! Water from the tap or a warm shower are not a matter of course in Africa. In the countryside the water is still pulled up laboriously by the women from a well with a bucket via a cable pull, poured into large tubs and carried on their heads to their own homestead.

An important focus of the Senegambican Naturefriends is to raise awareness and provide training in the area of resource-saving cooking stoves. Deforestation for firewood and bush fires have led to a dramatic decline in the typical forest savannahs.

Fatim from Guinea was part of our travel group. The Naturefriends Guinea have successfully carried out a „clay oven project“ in their country, financed by the Naturefriends Climate Fund. We were allowed to participate in two workshops of her. The two clay stoves, which were built in Koumbidja Socé on the edge of the schoolyard, can now be used for the school kitchen.

We also visited other projects that are designed to counteract climate change. Culture and relaxation were not neglected either (guided tours in Janjanbureh and Koungheul, visits to museums, hiking on the Gambia River in Janjanbureh, prehistoric stone circles of Wassu, boat trips on the Gambia River and through the mangrove forests in the Saloum delta in Senegal, tour of an animal reserve, etc.). Very impressive was the „Kankurang Festival“ in Janjanbureh, which focused on the most important figure in the initiation rite of the Mandinga – the Kankurang.

And – last but not least – we took part in the "Naturefriend Day for the 125th anniversary of the Naturefriends Movement' in Janjanbureh/The Gambia with many guests of honour, as already reported elsewhere.

Video in Janjanbureh

To see full range of photos click here for original post on NFI

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