Mbao forest: Dakar’s green lung

Previously a peri-urban forest, the Mbao forest has gradually become an urban forest located in the heart of the capital. It has become vulnerable to all sorts of threats. Within 30 years, its surface area has shrunk by 15 percent. It has been coveted and assaulted in various ways by local residents, property developers and even by State structures. And yet, within the Mbao forest, a variety of economic activities are being developed, for example market gardening, small-scale fishing, rainfed agriculture, livestock farming, and cashew apple picking. These activities contribute to growth in revenue, to higher standards of living and, thus, to ending poverty within neighbouring populations. Over a thousand people live off the forest.

The Mbao forest has always been a source of food for the people. Large quantities of cashew apples and nuts are harvested from the forest. These products are an important part of the population’s diet. A socio-economic analysis has revealed the forest’s beneficial effect on the health, living environment, and economy of surrounding villages.

Thanks to its rich biodiversity, the forest fulfils an ecological function. It holds a significant plant potential, thus making it a zone for the harvest of medicinal plants.

In addition to its ecologic and economic functions, the forest brings social as well as health benefits to neighbouring populations since, thanks to its ability to conserve soil and water, it protects them from pollution caused by traffic congestions and floods. This keeps the population healthy. Some even noted that their asthma or allergy symptoms had eased since they moved to that area.

The Mbao forest has always been used for agricultural purposes. Close to 200 hectares of land are being cultivated. Some farmers explain that they survive on their millet production year in, year out. Moreover, several families can benefit from it, thus considerably reducing poverty. Groups of women from Keur Mbaye Fall have made important progress in market gardening in the Mbao forest. Market garden production alone can create an annual income of several millions of CFA francs. This represents an important source of income for neighbouring populations. This activity contributes to the protection of the forest.

The construction of the new toll highway crossing almost 4km of the forest was seized as an opportunity to federate all the initiatives aimed at the development and implementation of a city plan which would act as a forest management plan. The aim of the 12-year plan is to provide Dakar and its suburbs with a recreational area. In that sense, the plan contributes to a better quality of life for the population of Dakar. The Hann Zoo, now too small, might even be transferred to the Mbao forest.

The plan seeks to provide the inhabitants of Dakar with recreational green spaces like those that can be found in the world’s biggest cities such as London, New York or Paris. To achieve this goal, it is necessary to improve the quality of life of  inhabitants using the forest as a landfill. Besides the protection and development of Dakar’s green lung, the plan takes into consideration agricultural and recreational factors. To develop recreational and leisure activities, the current vegetation must be transformed and creepers must be replaced with special plants that can grow to a height ideal for recreational purposes.

Alé Badara Sy, geographer and urbanist, is the founding President of the Club de Réflexion sur l’Urbain, a think tank on urban issues in Senegal. He was in charge of coordinating, within UN-Habitat, the urban development strategy of greater Dakar.  Today, he works in the field of public works.

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