As a former environment minister from Costa Rica, a country more than half covered in trees, Carlos Manuel Rodriguez knows well the vital role forests can play in community life.
That is what stood out for the Global Environment Facility CEO from his visit to the village of Djilor Djidiack, Senegal, where residents have planted, managed, and protected a 20-hectare community forest with the support of the GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP).
“It is so meaningful to see the close connections between village life and the surrounding environment, with each providing for the other,” Rodriguez said. “This is a very important example of how local insights and leadership can make lasting and positive change.”
Djilor Djidiack’s forest was brainchild of the Sédar Diaga Senghor women’s group, a 200-strong local association founded in 2003 and named for Senegal’s first president. The group worked on the initiative alongside several organizations committed to local prosperity, from the Association of Village Development to the Scouts and Guides of Djilor.
The SGP, managed by the UN Development Programme, funded measures to help these dedicated tree-planters preserve this new resource by establishing the Kolou Ndig APAC.
An APAC – an acronym of the French term aires et territoires du patrimoine autochtone et communautaire – is known in English as an ICCA, or Indigenous Peoples and Community Conserved Territories and Areas. These are territories or areas where conservation and natural resources are managed by communities according to locally set rules.
The primary goal of the project Support Kolou Ndig APAC of Djilor Djidiack Village was to protect biodiversity in the municipality of Fimela and the Saloum Delta, a biosphere reserve and national park that lies between the Sine and Saloum rivers. The delta is a species-rich mangrove ecosystem that faces a variety of threats, including saltwater incursions, land clearance for agriculture, and accelerating climate change.
“In Djilor Djidiack, local communities rely mainly on their ICCA values to conserve the biocultural diversity,” said Khatary Mbaye, SGP’s National Coordinator in Senegal.
A key first step toward improving safeguards for the Kolou Ndig forest was the formation of an ICCA management committee, chosen by the Djilor Djidiack general assembly, and the creation of a code of conduct. But the scope of the project went well beyond this.
The forest guardians received training in nursery management as well as instruction in the codes governing protection of forests, fisheries, wildlife, and the environment. They had the opportunity to seek insight about best practices from groups managing other ICCAs.
Funds were also earmarked for meetings to raise awareness in the wider community about the critical importance of preserving fragile habitats and workshops to validate and share a new code of conduct.
Those safeguarding the Kolou Ndig site received equipment designed to help their efforts, including flashlights, shovels, boots, and wheelbarrows.
Importantly, the project also led to the establishment of a new Fund for the Support of the Environment and Development to encourage community members to adopt nature-friendly income-generating activities. The fund’s leadership team was chosen by the Sédar Diaga Senghor women’s group and the ICCA management committee.
“With the loans provided through the Fund for the Support of the Environment and Development, women have developed environmentally friendly activities to generate income, therefore reducing pressure on the community forest,” said Fatou Diouf, a member of the ICCA management committee and head of the commission on income-generating activities.