Senegal has said it will not grant any new permits for quarrying and mining in the country's 233 forest conservation areas. The government has said it will encourage companies already operating there to move out as part of efforts to reduce deforestation and protect the environment.
Environment Minister Modou Fada Diagne said in a document made available to IRIN that his department would begin talks soon with quarrying companies that already operate in the country's five million hectares of forest reserves and national parks with a view to moving them elsewhere.
He added that the granting of all new mining and quarrying permits would be conditional on the approval social and environmental impact studies and an undertaking by the firms involved to restore the environment to its original state once the extraction of minerals ceased.
The new policy is particularly aimed at reducing deforestation around the capital Dakar and the towns of Tambacounda, Louga, Thies and Kaolack. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Senegal lost over 45,000 hectares of forest between 1990 and 2000.
According to environmental experts, the uncontrolled expansion of quarrying in Senegal has led to coastal erosion, a reduction in the area of available farmland and skin and lung problems for people who live nearby.
However, President Abdoulaye Wade has not granted any new mining or quarrying permits within Senegal's forest reserves since he was elected three years ago.
Shortly after coming to power in April 2000, Wade ordered the Environment Ministry to select and grow a variety of drought-resistant plants with the aim of planting 100 million trees a year to stop the encroachment of the Sahara desert.
This target has been achieved with the help of tree planting programmes conducted by schools. Senegal now claims to be reforesting 30,000 hectares of land per year. However, many of the trees planted have died from lack of water and follow-up care.