Agricultural Sustainability in the Soudano-Sahelian: Climate Change and the Application of Traditional Knowledge

  • Author: Diane L. Douglas, Jeffrey Homburg & Mark Vendrig
  • Topic: Environmental archaeology,Ethno-archaeology
  • Country: Sudan
  • Related Congress: 13th Congress, Dakar

In this paper we examine the sustainability of traditional agriculture in
the Soudo-Sahel in the face of expected climate change. We begin with an
analysis of physical and chemical soil properties of agricultural fields in
southeastern Senegal to assess the soil quality and sustainability of traditional
agricultural practices in this region. We then used this information to
assess the vulnerability and resilience of these practices to normal fluctuations
in climate. Although the current climate of southeastern Senegal is
tropical, it is located on the boundary of the Sahel and Soudan zones, has a
short wet season and is prone to drought. Sediment cores extracted from the
eastern Atlantic Ocean, lakes and other water bodies provide evidence of
both long-term (1000’s of years) and short term (30 to 70 years) dry and wet
cycles in the Sahel. The longer cycles are likely driven by variation in
earth’s orbit and solar output and the shorter cycles by variations in the El
Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO),
Indian Ocean sea surface temperatures, and solar output. Our paper examines
the timing and amplitude of past drought cycles in western and
northeastern Africa since the last ice age to provide a context for understanding
the range of climate change that may occur in the region in the future.
Natural cycles of climate change can create drought conditions that trigger
desertification—a process that may have been accentuated and prolonged, in
some areas of western Africa, due to unsustainable land use practices such as
excessive wood-cutting. Historically, these environmental stresses have
caused people to migrate in pursuit of favorable agro-climatic conditions.
Areas such as southern Senegal have been a key pivot point as the Sahara
desert has expanded and contracted. We examine how future climate change
may affect migration in the Soudo-Sahel zone and how this may stress the
carrying capacity of agricultural lands of the region. We also examine how
ancient and traditional farming methods may provide a rich source of technology
for communities that will need to adapt to climatic variation in the

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