VISIT TO: Ker Momar Sarr with Abdou Sarr ’81

January 7th, 2010

Abdou Sarr is a graduate of The College of Wooster (Class of 1981) and was an International Relations and Cultural Area Studies (Latin America) major. He was recognized by President Henry J. Copeland at graduation as the first francophone to receive honors. He studied abroad in Colombia during his time at Wooster and was the founder of Africa week (along with two Kenyans). Again, Gary Engelberg (Director of ACI) put me in contact with Abdou, who currently lives in Ker Momar Sarr with his family. The fact that he was a graduate of The College of Wooster and is doing development work with aquaculture and fisheries is purely coincidental…

I spent three days and two nights in Ker Momar Sarr with Abdou and his family. I had the opportunity to have multiple conversations with him about his work in and with development projects and fisheries, as well visit a couple of sites that he is working on in the area. Abdou has been working in development for a very long time. He started development work with a nine-month food alimentation/distribution project that turned into a nine-year long endeavor. He currently is very interested in creating a sustainable farm in the village, using the resources of the Lac de Guiers, as well as his knowledge and imagination/creativity. He said, “I want to work with the people. Working with people is the only way to help a population; it does not help to sit in an air-conditioned office in Dakar, the United States, or the European Union and wait for a report.”


Abdou wants to have his own farm, in which each part of the farm produces a good, but also is linked to/ helping another good. He spoke about having fish, chickens, and crops. Each of these three goods would bring in money at a different time of the year; Abdou said, “too many people in Senegal depend on one source of income, I want to show this community that you can diversify. Diversification is key. Not just watermelon. Not just tomatoes. Not just one means of making money.” He sees the chickens’ droppings being used as fertilizer for his crops and the basis for feed to feed his fishing stocks. The water from his fishing basins can be connected to an irrigation system for his crops, in which the water can be circulated from basins to land. He truly believes that rural communities do not have to me dependent on one source of income.

Abdou said, “The hardest thing for people to do in Senegal est de changer la manière dont ils pensent et font leurs travails. Si on change la façon dont quelqu’un fait son travail, on peut développer.” However, he explained that it is very difficult to stop and change what you have been doing for your entire life. “Il est difficile parce que beaucoup de personnes n’ont pas les moyens à changer.”

Abdou has completed a comprehensive plan for his idea. He has formally submitted it to a couple of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the Ministry of Agriculture, the British Embassy, and hopes to solicit more interest. He told be how an NGO visited his project site the other day and said that “They were very interested in what I was doing here; they said that it is something new that they have not seen before. They were excited and said they would call back in one week.”

With Abdou’s project, there are many parts that must be completed for it to work. His proposal states his project will cost about 10,000,000 CFA (20,000 USD), of which he can provide about 1/10th himself. Currently, he has built fishing cages that are on the Lac de Guiers and purchased 3,000 tilapia fingerlings (100,000 CFA). The fishing cages are on the Lac de Guiers right now, but he hopes to move them to another site when he has the means.


When I arrived on Sunday, Abdou and his entire family were in the process of making fish feed. They were making fish feed from dried fish parts and wheat bran. Abdou told me that he dried fish parts are not purchased, but they are left behind from fishing markets that are in the in the village periodically. He said that instead of the dried fish parts going to waste, he collects the parts and uses them to make his fish feed. His family was pounding and grinding the dried fish parts, which would be later mixed with water and wheat bran. Immediately, this resourcefulness was very striking to me; it was apparent that some people (like Abdou) were thinking in the direction of conservation and re-use. Over the course of my three days in Ker Momar Sarr, I watched how every morning he would pull the feed into the sun to let it dry into balls/pellets.

Later in the day (Sunday), Abdou showed me another aspect of his fishery. As I previously mentioned, he has built cages to raise tilapia fingerlings in. We went to a part of the Lac de Guiers to see these cages (4 total, of which two are functional and in the water).


Abdou said, “Il y a deux problèmes avec la pêche au Sénégal; il y a la pêche marine et la pêche continental.” He explained that in the area of the Lac de Guiers, the problems are continental fishing; however, we spoke about fishing problems in general.

With coastal fishing, according to Abdou, the problems are the international accords that have been signed with the European Union (“il n y a pas de pêcheur qui pense que des accords sont une bon idée”), over fishing, pirogues getting hit by larger industrial boats, and nets/materials that destroy everything in the ocean.

“Over fishing is a problem in Senegal. For example, there were times when Russian ships would fish in Senegalese waters and catch fish so that they could stock the oceans by them. These ships had pools on them.” Over fishing has led to people losing their lives because of fishing. Abdou said that pirogues will sail out into the ocean and get hit my larger industrial ships; fisherman know that the biggest fish and catches are far off the coast. Pirogues will also get caught in large industrial fishing nets. Abdou also explained that there are many fisherman that use nets that scrape the ocean floors of its resources. “Mollusks and all types of fish are wiped out; there is no way that fish can reproduce in destroyed reefs and sea beds.” He also explained that with these types of nets there is so much waste too. “By the time that the nets are taken out of the water to see if there is anything that can be thrown back, the bad fish is already dead. The dead fish are not used and simply tossed.”

Abdou said that the national government has attempted to establish reserves for fish in parts of the coastal waters in Senegal; however, there are many problems with the enforcement and regulation of these areas. Thus, they have been very unsuccessful. “Fisherman will do anything to get fish and make money. It is all about making money, not about conserving the levels of fish.” Furthermore, according to Abdou, international accords have not helped the over fishing problems either; “Though there are limits on the amount of fish that each country can export, many countries do not tell the truth about how many kilograms they have on their boats. There is no real way to tell either.” Abdou also mentioned that local governments and communities have attempted to enforce regulations, but enforcement is also a problem. He said that some parts of Senegal have been successful, and that in these places (islands of the coast), there are months when fisherman are not allowed to fish. However, not all localities are like this.

I asked Abdou if over fishing was really a problem in Senegal, probing the idea that maybe it was a Western view. Abdou said, “Il est un problème ici, au Sénégal. Pour des personnes, qui dites qu’il n’y a pas un problème, they are not paying attention. Il y a beaucoup d’émissions, de programmes, et d’actualités.” This was a clear contrast to Amadiou who believed that no problem existed in the coastal waters of Senegal.

Senegalese coastal fishermen also illegally fish off the Mauritanian coasts. Abdou said, “The waters off the Mauritanian coasts have more fish than Senegal coastal waters because Mauritanians do not fish as well as the Senegalese. Many Senegalese fishermen fish in these waters without appropriate permits/licenses. If they are caught, then the are arrested. Many Senegalese fishermen take this risk because they can come back with a lot of fish…to make a lot of money.”

With continental fishing, there are many problems as well (of which many overlap). Abdou explained that his biggest problem with fishing has been getting the appropriate materials to fish. He said that just like fisherman on the sea, there are problems with accessing the right pirogues and nets to catch the best and most profitable types of fish. He said that not until recently, the national government did not recognize the fact that continental fishermen were having similar problems to their coastal counterparts. However, the government has still done very little to actually help out fishermen.

Abdou stated that one of the biggest problems with sweet-water continental fishing is typha. He said that unlike fishermen on the sea, continental fishermen have many problems with aquatic plants that are extremely invasive. He said, “il n’est pas assez de solutions pour le combattre.” Typha started to inhibit continental fishing in the Lac de Guiers after the barrage de Diama was constructed. Prior to the dam’s construction, water that had a much higher saline content flowed into the lake. Abdou said this was good because there was no typha and the fish types were better (“Les Sénégalais préfèrent des pêches qui vient du mer”); however, it was also bad because access to the lake was greater.

Abdou explained that the region has gone through a lot of problems, from the construction of the barrage de Diama to the lake drying up completely. There have been attempts to stock the lake with fish, but the opening and closing of the dam lets the fish out into the Senegalese River Valley.


“People must thinking creatively and change their mentality. If people want to see progress and development, they must be willing to do things differently.” Abdou expressed how gracious he was for the fact that hi education at The College of Wooster made him a greater thinker. He said that more people need to be able to think outside of the box. He explained to me that he sees four types of people in the development world. There is the inventor who takes new things to places and begins to implement them, but never finishes. There is the copy-cat that sees one good idea and then tries it himself. There is the waiter who sees if a project will work before they decide whether or not to take action. And, there is the person that is stuck in the old way, not willing to change. “On doit changer, et si la change est petit à petit…small is better.”


I visited Abdou’s 5 hectares of land during my visit. He continued to explain to me that he wants to have up to twenty fish basins, and that the four that he currently has are just a start to get the ball rolling. “The government will take away your land if you have not showed progress in two years time.” Abdou explained to me that if you request land in Senegal, and it is not already taken, you will be granted a piece of land.

So far on his land he has four basins dug and is in the process of having a fence built. He needs 100,000 CFA for the appropriate piping that will connect his basins to the Lac de Guiers. he already has the pump that will be located next to the well that he plans on digging. Abdou explained in depth his project idea to me. He even drew out his plan in the sand.


When asked about whether or not sustainable development was thought about in Senegal, Abdou said that yes it was. “Ten to fifteen years ago, the idea was not even considered. People did not care about cutting down trees or burning bushes, but now people are being much more conscience.” The national government has put in place a variety of organizations and ministries that feed directly into the ideas of sustainable development. Abdou told me about a reforestation project (un projet de reboisement) that he had worked on in the area. “The desert was coming before and the projet de reboisement was supposed to help stop the degradation.” He told me that he planted a bunch of seeds but, unfortunately, cows just at them; luckily, “the seeds finally germinated when the seeds left the cows stomach, and now there are a lot of trees because of the manure.”

Abdou spoke about Le Service de Forets and the Minister of the Environment and their roles in sustainable development implementation in Senegal. He told me about how people are fined and jailed if they are caught doing anything that would lead to environmental degradation. It is the responsibility of local governments to enforce regulations like bush burning laws. “If bushes are burned and a culprit is not caught, then the local leaders are jailed. So, the local leaders find out who harmed the environment now. Before, this was not the case.”

Bottom-line, Abdou said, “Understanding that the environment is important is one thing, but to actually do something is another. There is a problem with understanding and management in Senegal. Management is the biggest problem.” There is no way to enforce regulations and limited means/funds that have inhibited the full potential of sustainable development. Furthermore, Abdou said that the government is corrupt. “There is no money for the people. There are so many international donors that give money to Africa, but by the time it makes it past the national level, then the regional level, and then the local level, there is little to no money left. Their (government) faces are so fat, and now there is that f***ing statue that Wade spent millions on in Dakar! Nobody likes that f***ing thing; he could have fed and helped so many people, but now we have a stupid bronze statue of a man, a woman, and a baby. What are we going to do, eat it!? À obtenir l’argent est le problème le plus grave.”

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