Readying for Rain (Senegal: Rain, Forests, People Project)

by Rachel Nisbet | 9 July 2019
Image Readying for Rain (Senegal: Rain, Forests, People Project)

Thirty-five farmers in Senegal’s Fatick-Thiès region are ready to harvest rain! In late May, IRHA’s Florian Biesler travelled to Senegal with our director, Marc Sylvestre, to kick off the project’s calabash construction. These rainwater reservoirs will provide the first volley of farmers participating in the 'Rain, Forests, People’ agroforestry project with the means of storing harvested rainwater. This resource will provide drinking water for their families, even at the end of the dry period (March-June). Ensuring the hydro-security of farmers and their families participating in this project (approximately 350 beneficiaries) is crucial to the project’s success. Access to clean drinking water underpins the health of these farmers. Yet this is a coastal region, where saltwater intrusion into aquifers makes groundwater unpotable during the later months of the dry season.

Under the expert guidance of Paul Akkerman and the masons accompanying him from Guinea-Bissau, we began a two-week workshop to train five, local, Senegalese masons in calabash construction. These curvaceous, feminine structures, which the newly trained masons will build outside each farmer’s home, possibly trigger memories of a loving mother. To contain rainwater, these 5000 litre tanks also need to be tough! One technical issue that had to be resolved to build durable calabashes was locating a suitable source of sand. To make a watertight tank, Paul Akkerman explained that we should avoid using local river sands. As this is a coastal region, the river sands contain salt crystals, which would dissolve as our tanks were constructed, creating structural weaknesses. To achieve a robust mortar, using a cement-to-sand ratio of 1:3, we purchased building sand.

Soon, there will be some serious weather coming at these 5000 litre tanks. Rainfall has become increasingly irregular in the Fatick-Thiès region over the last 40 years (Ndour et al, 2012). But when the June rains first sweep across the Sahel, the dust clouds they drum skywards conjure an apocalyptic scene, as the above image, taken by APAF Senegal’s field officer, Marine Protte-Rieg, shows. It was vital that we began our calabash construction this June, as records show the region receives on average 89 % of its annual rainfall between the months of July and September (ibid). We are delighted, therefore, that the five masons attending our training course received certificates in calabash construction on June 12th.We wish them good speed as they construct a total of 35 calabash cisterns before the rains arrive later this month.

Pictured below are:

a) Paul Akkerman and his team from Guinea-Bissau holding the theoretical part of the Calabash Training Workshop.

b) Senegalese masons working to construct a calabash in the village of Sorobougou, as part of their practical training.

c) The Senegalese masons (SM) receiving their certificates alongside the trainers from Guinea-Bissau (T_GB). From left to right are: Mahdi (SM), Kalifat (SM), Julio (T_GB), Sadjalu (T_GB), Isidore (SM), Simon (SM), Abib (SM), Amadu (T_GB), and Kanté (APAF-Sengal)


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