Introduction to life in Senegal

By Brenna Walsh

This being my first experience living abroad, I have experienced a lot of new things in this first two weeks of my 5.5 month stay in Dakar, Senegal. I have had quite a few surprises –the exclamation that I made on the way from the airport to the house of the family I am staying with when I saw a large cow grazing on a strip of grass between the two opposing lanes of traffic on a highway in the city was quite loud I think. But I now know that seeing goats, cows, chickens and roosters as well as work horses and stray cats and dogs in the streets of our neighbourhood, Mermoz will be quite a regular occurrence.

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This herd of cows is brought to graze in the field behind IAGU every day. Quite a nice distraction!

I am very grateful that I am living with a family so had a ready-made place to stay and will also be living there with an intern from the previous co-hort, Kendra for the first two months. It is really invaluable to have someone to show me around Dakar, introduce me to the work we are doing here and push me to get used to the hustle and bustle (much of the emphasis on hustle really, there are people that really want to sell you things) of the markets, get to know Dakar and learn to navigate the area and speak enough Wolof to take a taxi by myself! The first time I failed at haggling the price, but last night I was apparently more convincing, I was quite happy to be succeeding with this new skill.

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Yellow taxis and a bus in the background are primary forms of transport in Dakar. I am very glad not to have to drive a car, roads are quite hectic in this city!

In addition to getting used to life in Dakar, I have had a really great introduction to two of the project we will be working on with our partner in Dakar, L’intitut Africaine de Gestion Urbaine (IAGU). I have arrived at a really good time to jump into one project in particular, which I am quite excited after piecing together information on the project this week reading the background information and then having a really good meeting with our Kendra and our IAGU colleague.

This project is called Western Africain Biowastes for Energies and Fertilizers (WABEF) and has four main goals

  • To gather information on anaerobic digestion experiences and technologies in different parts of the world,
  • Building two demonstration plants in Mali and Benin
  • To raise awareness for where and by who biogas production by anaerobic digestion can be exploited
  • Project management and consortium coordination

I have come into this project at a time where IAGU, one of six international partners in the project will be playing an important role. As Senegal is one of three countries on which this project is focused, one of the main roles which IAGU will play will be to compile information on how and where biogas reactors are being used in Senegal, and how their use in a semi-industrial or industrial scale can benefit the Senegalese population. One of my favorite lines for our meeting with our co-worker yesterday was one that he repeated quite a few times, Il y a beaucoup de gens au Senegal qui s’interesse du biogas, mais il ne savent pas qu’il s’interesse, meaning There are lots of people in Senegal interested in biogas, but they just don’t know it yet! IAGU’s goal is to transfer knowledge to those who think they may benefit from a biogas reactor but don’t have all the information, and those who are interested, but don’t know it yet!

The first step that we will be taking to achieve this goal will be to interview the existing players in biogas production in Senegal. WABEF is focusing on collecting information on semi-industrial to industrial scale biogas reactors and has established a minimum volume for their study of 20 m3. However, to get a broad picture of biogas production in Senegal, we will also be looking at a national program which installs household scale biogas reactors for processing cow paddies for households with greater than five cows.

There are four semi-industrial or industrial scale biogas projects currently in operation in Senegal. The first in through the Non-Government Organization (NGO) Partenariat who have developed a partnership with SOGAS and produce biogas from slaughterhouse waste in Saint-Louis. Five houses are connected to the biogas line. A similar system exists in the town of Podor. The largest and only industrial scale biogas project ongoing in Senegal is TECHOGAZ, and produces 1500 m3 of biogas daily. The feed source for this reactor is also primarily waste from slaughterhouses from different areas in Dakar. The energy produced controls air temperature in the cold rooms in the slaughter house, is used for lighting and for hot water. The last project is through l’office national de l’assainissement du Sénégal, The Senegalese National Sanitation Office and partners with a waste water treatment facility and uses human waste from the sewer system to produce electricity and reduces energy bills for the purification centre in Camberène.

We will be conducting surveys to gather information about these players’ experiences with biogas. We are looking to collect information to answer questions like where they learned about the technology, pros and cons of their system and do they have advice for those who may be considering the technology? After compiling the results of the survey, IAGU’s role will be to prepare policy briefs to distribute to those considering or those would could benefit from this technology. These will both explain the technology and highlight the multiple benefits-such as reducing waste for disposal while reducing energy bills. This will be an readily available and widely accessible source of information on biogas and a simple way to get this information out to groups that may already be interested in this technology and those who could benefit from it but do not know about it yet.

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About 50% of waste in Dakar is collected and treated. Unfortunately a lot of the remaining waste is dumped at sites like this one. What is more unfortunate is what you cannot see in this picture, that this cliff goes down to the ocean.

I am really looking forward to getting this interview process started. The issues which are faced in waste management in Senegal are very different than those in Canada. Even though differences are obvious when walking on the street as being well laid out in reports on the topic, it will be very interesting to hear first-hand experiences of these Senegalese groups with the renewable energy technology, and to learn the impacts it has had on their daily lives and businesses.

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