- Even though the establishment of the Saloum Delta Biosphere Reserve in Senegal restricted local communities in their natural resource use, seventy percent of the population supports the park. There has been very little conflict between conservation and development.
This is one of the main lessons of the 14-year project to develop and implement a management plan for the area, as put forward in the new publication "Elaboration et mise en oeuvre d'un plan de gestion integrée - La Réserve de biosphere du delta du Saloum, Sénégal" by Mr Ibrahima Mamadou Mat Dia of the Senegalese branch of the world environmentalist union IUCN.
The Saloum Delta Park was established to protect the rapidly degrading mangrove wetlands between Dakar and The Gambia. Its importance as a wildlife sanctuary - in particular birds, fish and sea turtles - put it among the West African coast's principal biospheres, comparable only to Mauritania's Banc d'Arguin.
The environmentally important delta however also represented the home and livelihood of a large population. Local communities were mainly living of the delta's resources; fisheries, mangrove wood and agriculture. The rapidly growing population had started to seriously degrade its environment.
- Our experience shows that it is wrong to systematically oppose conservation to development, says Mr Mat Dia, author and Chief Technical Adviser to the Saloum Delta Biosphere project. "The communities of the delta clearly see the necessity of the park, but they want to have a share in its benefits and the responsibility of its management."
The process to develop and implement a management plan for this area of international biodiversity value started in 1989. The government of Senegal, local communities, a host of organisations and research institutions, the government of the Netherlands and IUCN agreed on a long-term package of research, policy and action.
Research into the ecology of the 500,000 hectares area and engagement with its 600,000 inhabitants was combined with immediate action to improve livelihoods and management. The project built wells and a dam to improve water supplies and market gardening, helped establish health care facilities and schools, and trained women in the processing and marketing of fish and shellfish.
Conservation activities included the establishment of protected mangrove and fishing areas following communities' advice, and constructing new facilities for the Saloum National Park Headquarters.
Now the project is in its final phases of implementation, the new publication aims to tell the world of protected area managers what it has learnt. It provides an overview of the ecology of the area, the process followed in the establishment of a management plan, the plan itself, and the main lessons learnt.
- The process of adaptive management that combines research, partnerships and negotiations between stakeholders is necessarily complex, says Mr Mat Dia. "The realisation that such a project requires a long-term engagement of everyone is therefore paramount."
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