Factor biases and promoting sustainable development: Adaptation to drought in the Senegal River Basin

  • Henry D. Venema
  • Eric J. Schiller
  • Brad Bass

DOI: 10.1007/BF00455057

Cite this article as:
Venema, H.D., Schiller, E.J. & Bass, B. Mitig Adapt Strat Glob Change (1996) 1: 139. doi:10.1007/BF00455057


The ongoing drought in the Sahel region of West Africa highlights the vulnerability of food-producing systems to climate change and variability. Adaptation to climate should therefore increase the sustainability of agriculture under a long-term drought. Progress towards sustainability and adaptation in the the Senegal River Basin is hampered by an existing set of social and ecological relationships that define the control over the means of production and how people interact with their environment. These relationships are sensitive to the technological inputs and the administration of food production, or the factor bias in the different policy alternatives for rural development. One option is based on state-controlled, irrigated plantations to provide rice (Oryza) for the capital, Dakar. This policy emphasizes a top-down management approach, mechanized agriculture and a reliance on external inputs which strengthens the relationships introduced during the colonial period.

A time series decomposition of the annual flow in the Senegal River at Bakel in Senegal suggests that water resources availability has been substantially curtailed since 1960, and a review of the water resources budget or availability in the basin suggests that this policy's food production system is not sustainable under the current climate of the basin. Under these conditions, this program is exacerbating existing problems of landscape degradation and desertification, which increases rural poverty. A natural resource management policy offers two adaptation strategies that favour decentralized management and a reduction of external inputs. The first alternative, “Les Perimetres Irrigués”, emphasizes village-scale irrigation, low water consumption cereal crops and traditional socio-political structures. The second alternative emphasizes farm-level irrigation and agro-forestry projects to redress the primary effects of desertification.

The water requirements of both the rice import substitution program and the natural resource management program are calculated. A water resources simulation model/optimization analysis using dynamic programming is used to compare these two alternatives to the rice import substitution programs. Results indicate that the natural resource management policy could potentially bring a large area into production while using far less water than the rice import substitution program. The natural resource management policy, in particular the second alternative with its emphasis on individual ownership and ecological rehabiliation, defines a different set of social and ecological relationships that appear to enhance the sustainability of food production under a long-term drought.

Key words

Adaptation agriculture agroforestry climate change drought ecological degradation factor bias Senegal sustainability social relations 

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Henry D. Venema
    • 1
  • Eric J. Schiller
    • 2
  • Brad Bass
    • 3
  1. 1.Acres InternationalNiagara FallsCanada
  2. 2.Department of Civil EngineeringUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada
  3. 3.Atmospheric Environment ServiceEnvironmental Adaptation Research GroupTorontoCanada
  4. 4.Institute for Environmental StudiesUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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