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Handing resource management back to local councillors in Senegal

Forest resource management in Senegal is highly dysfunctional. This was revealed by the results of a two-year study of decentralized management and the economics of the charcoal supply chain.

With 80 000 ha of forest cover cleared each year, including 30 000 ha to produce charcoal, Senegal has lost half of its forest in 20 years. Nowadays, its forest resource, which covers just 25% of the country, is continuing to shrink as a result of numerous factors, including a severe drought, which lasted for three decades up to the late 1990s. Is this catastrophic vision a consequence of climatic factors alone, of an uncontrollable increase in demand from urban areas, or of bad management at national level?

An analysis of the situation in the field tipped the balance in favour of the latter two options. This was shown by the results of a two-year research programme conducted by CIRAD, in partnership with the World Resource Institute (WRI) and the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA). In effect, the economic and political issues surrounding charcoal production often run counter to sustainable management measures.

The decentralization laws drawn up are generally sufficient to give local councils real decision-making and operating powers. However, it is clear that those powers are often still held higher up, giving central government and public services arbitrary responsibility for executing those laws. As a result, players outside local communities often have completely free access to and use of the available resources. They set up new authorities, often at village level, which tend to compete with rural councils, promoting confustion as to the distribution of responsibility. The context favours various forms of private management and the reaffirmation by State representatives of their role as guarantors of natural resources, while local people, who make a living from natural resources, are invited to participate in maintaining those resources to ensure sustainable management.

What can be done to ensure that power is really transferred to local communities? The programme recommended making changes along three lines: taxes, timber licences and management schemes. The recommendations question the legitimate authority of the State and the local councils' room for manoeuvre. Taxes need to be harmonized, established and monitored at both local and national level, so as not to favour one region over another and to prevent exhaustion of the resource. The situation concerning the laws governing timber cutting is confused to say the least: local councillors can sign felling authorizations, but it is actually forest service staff members who issue licences. Lastly, the forestry code imposes complex forest management systems, notably for charcoal production, while the decentralization code allows for simplified management schemes.

Helen Burford | alfa
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