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23.07.2020 Senegal

As rains begin to fall, Senegal's Fulani herders break camp

By AFP
In a brown landscape turned green, a young herder in northern Senegal's Louga region washes his face in a lake created by long-awaited rains.  By JOHN WESSELS (AFP)
LISTEN JUL 23, 2020
In a brown landscape turned green, a young herder in northern Senegal's Louga region washes his face in a lake created by long-awaited rains. By JOHN WESSELS (AFP)

The rains have returned to northern Senegal, carpeting a daunting semi-desert landscape in emerald grass.

Camels tuck into fresh baobab leaves in Barkedji. The animals have been herded in by Mauritanians, who head south into Senegal at this time because the rains there come earlier than at home.  By JOHN WESSELS (AFP) Camels tuck into fresh baobab leaves in Barkedji. The animals have been herded in by Mauritanians, who head south into Senegal at this time because the rains there come earlier than at home. By JOHN WESSELS (AFP)

The downpours are welcome news for thousands of Fulani pastoralists in the region -- doughty people for whom this year was harder than most.

Herders usually move north to south across Senegal as the pasture dries up, before returning north again with the summer rains.

Sheep cluster together as storm clouds gather near Barkedji.  By JOHN WESSELS (AFP) Sheep cluster together as storm clouds gather near Barkedji. By JOHN WESSELS (AFP)

For these semi-nomadic people, livestock is nearly their sole source of income.

But many found themselves caught in the sparsely populated semi-desert -- with little to no grazing for their animals -- when Senegal enacted coronavirus restrictions in March.

Nomadic life: A Fulani pastoralist carries lambs in her donkey cart as her community heads north.  By JOHN WESSELS (AFP) Nomadic life: A Fulani pastoralist carries lambs in her donkey cart as her community heads north. By JOHN WESSELS (AFP)

Now, with travel restrictions lifted, and with the first rains last week, many of the Fulani have packed up their temporary camps and are returning north.

Families travel slowly by donkey cart, lugging bedding, pots and cans, surrounded by their animals. They camp by the side of the road.

The slow march north is not without its hazards, however.

A Fulani herder lost 15 sheep in flash floods -- a huge loss.  By JOHN WESSELS (AFP) A Fulani herder lost 15 sheep in flash floods -- a huge loss. By JOHN WESSELS (AFP)

Long months of drought have hardened the ground, and heavy rains last week caused flash flooding outside the small market town of Barkedji.

Makeshift camps were destroyed, and one family near the town lost 15 head of sheep, a fortune, in the downpour.

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