The LESELAM project aims to understand soil erosion in Mayotte and to raise awareness of the issue among the local population in order to reduce soil losses, in both urban and agricultural areas.
24 March 2021

Soil erosion in Mayotte is caused by the impact of heavy tropical rainfall on unprotected or poorly protected soil.

The strong pressure of human activities tends to accelerate soil erosion: more or less unregulated urban expansion, deforestation, shift from extensive farming (typical multi-crop Mayotte-style gardens) to intensive single-crop farming that leaves soils unprotected, etc.

The erosion becomes very active in the rainy season and is a serious threat to Mayotte's lagoon, one of the most beautiful in the world.

The LESELAM project was designed to better understand, prevent and remedy these soil erosion problems in Mayotte.

Action against soil erosion and lagoon siltation in Mayotte

The lagoon of Mayotte is one of the most remarkable lagoons on the planet. But this biodiversity is threatened by the silting up due to the arrival of land from natural, agricultural and urban areas of Mayotte. The LESELAM project is fully in line with the Erosion roadmap in Mayotte.




Mayotte's lagoon was listed a marine natural park in 2010. Its exceptional biodiversity makes it one of the planet's most remarkable lagoons. But this biodiversity is threatened due to siltation of sediments from Mayotte's natural, agricultural and urban areas. Mayotte has known big changes throughout its history, mainly agricultural, with major shifts in crop production particularly regarding ylang-ylang and sugar cane crops. But since the '90s, it has seen other kinds of big changes related to its exceptional demography, which has impacted naturally fragile environments. This fragility is based on the island's morphology, with its prevalent sloping surfaces, its tropical climate and intense rains, and its fragile and erodible soil.


In 2012, the DEAL in Mayotte established a strategy for erosion to try to contain the issue of erosion and siltation in the lagoon. The LESELAM project to fight soil erosion and siltation in the lagoon comes within the scope of this plan, for its objective is to evaluate the inflow of sediments from Mayotte's drainage basin and to accompany individuals and professionals by implementing better conduct to contain this problem. The LESELAM project falls in line with the ENVALAG and SEDILAG projects, which are led by the university centre and Mayotte Marine Natural Park. They all share a common goal: to raise awareness and to develop tools that will hopefully slow down, in the long run, the siltation of the lagoon.


In order to understand how erosion occurs in Mayotte, an observatory was set up in late 2015 as phase one of the LESELAM project. To best represent the island's various environments, three different zones were selected. The first, located on Mtsamboro Hill, is 17 hectares. It represents coastal environments, with steep slopes and dense urbanisation. In Mtsamboro, run-off waters are concentrated in the main gully and flow onto the beach across from the Choazil Islands. The second zone is in Dzoumogne, above the drinking water reservoir along the Oua Bandrani stream. It measures 343 hectares and is representative of environments that have both agricultural land and natural forest areas. Here, there are also a few padzas. Finally, the third zone in Salim Bé is located further south. It combines all three components: natural, agricultural and urban.


In Salim Bé, the stream right behind me, measuring tools were set up to measure the water level and water flow. We also measure its turbidity, or the level of suspended matter. We've also set up several rain gauges along the drainage basin, both upstream and downstream, for an accurate measurement of the area's precipitation. 15 to 20 mm of rainfall will result in stormwater runoff that converges along river systems and gullies. This cloudy water is a reddish-orange colour, which is characteristic in Mayotte, and which flows into the lagoon. When the water level rises, our automatic samplers collect water samples from the swollen river. They're analysed in a laboratory to determine the concentration of suspended particles. This is then compared to the turbidity measured on site. Since the end of 2015, we have collected data on erosion, rainfall, and run-off for three drainage basins: Salim Bé, Mtsamboro, and Dzoumogne. They provide interesting data on coastal erosion in tropical environments.


Mtsamboro's basin went from an erosion rate of 1 ton per hectare per year in 2016 to over 16 tons in the last year. The main cause is the advent of self-built infrastructures in periurban areas. Dzoumogne basin's level of erosion is much lower than Mtsamboro's, due to land use being predominantly natural and agricultural and because of its moderate slopes. However, we have seen a clear evolution between 2016 and 2020. The erosion rate was zero over the first two years and has now reached 0.5 to 1 ton per hectare per year. Mayotte's traditional forests, which provide full land-cover, are being replaced by cassava and banana fields on medium-to-steep slopes. Salim Bé's drainage basin has medium level of erosion at 1.5 to 4 tons per hectare per year due to its intermediate characteristics between Mtsamboro and Dzoumogne. The data collected by LESELAM's observatory allows us to calibrate a watershed erosion model over the three basins, which was applied to all of Mayotte's basins to produce a map of sedimentation flux in the lagoon from all of the island's drainage basins. Mapping helps us prioritize the basins by contribution to the lagoon, identify the more erosive basins, and prioritize measures of erosion control, both in urban and agricultural environments.


At LESELAM's observatory, we have established case-control embankments to measure erosion from the building phase to the final phase. Our measurements went from 300 tons per hectare to 110 tons per hectare the first year and from 50 tons per hectare to 10 tons per hectare the following years after plant preservation measures had been established. We also studied various construction sites on the island where we found a lack of slope stabilization and a lack of consideration towards the fight against erosion in both the conception and completion phases. These measures have allowed us to create a guide for good urban conduct. This guide offers simple measures that are adapted to Mayotte thanks to 10 data sheets that mainly address revegetation, protection of building sites, recommendations for each phase, and monitoring to ensure proper construction practice in Mayotte.


Along with our partners, we established a Wischmeier system that is made up of two segments: one case-study section and one improved section. In the case-study section, we left the crops in place without changing the way things are done on local farms. In the improved section, we introduced certain practices such as adding pineapple hedgerows, mulch, and cover crops. We tracked the evolution to see, in the rainy season, what forms of erosion we'd find. In the last two rainy seasons, the plots in which we maintained traditional farming methods, methods you might find on any farm, typically with monocultures of cassava and bananas, we measured 30 to 40 tons per hectare of sediments. And plots that had pineapple hedgerows and mulch had less than 1 ton per hectare. This proves the efficiency of these methods. People in Mayotte used to have farms with multiple crops on one plot, which held the soil together. But today, they practice monoculture, planting only one type of crop per plantation. This causes a lot of erosion on the plots. Today, people farm wherever they can, even on slopes. This also leads to a lot of erosion.


"Self-build" is the construction of one's individual home. You are both the contractor and the developer. There are no regulation laws for self-building. However, it is important to respect construction and housing codes and to undertake the necessary steps. To fight against erosion in a self-build project, you may, for example, avoid making terraces during the rainy seasons, protect mounds of earth with tarps, and limit this mound of earth's exposure to the elements. We strongly recommend building an evacuation system for collecting run-off water from plantations and roofs.


Gullies and streams play an important role in erosion. They carry sediments to the lagoon. One must not build a home next to a gully and protect these areas with plant cover. A best-practice guidebook was developed to inform you with the proper conduct to protect these areas.


In order to teach students about ending erosion, educational resources are made available to teachers on the academy's website. It is also a way of working with digital tools and local data. The data collected for this educational project is the result of a beautiful collaboration between BRGM, particularly members of BRGM who participated in LESELAM, and the island's educational community. This exchange between the scientific and educational communities made this data accessible to a wider population. Students may access this digital data and add to it their local environment. This is one of the themes taught in Year 12: erosion and human activity. Students don't always make the connection with erosion, so it is up to the teachers to raise these questions about the reasons behind this heavy erosion in Mayotte and its consequences. Our students see this erosion but have trouble understanding the causes and consequences of this erosion. One of the main difficulties is being able to project into the future and to see the indirect long-term consequences of erosion on the island of Mayotte, whether in terms of subsistence or agricultural resources. Having quantitative data, for example, allows them to better understand this important phenomenon on the island of Mayotte. It is necessary for students and future generations to become aware of this issue to change our methods and preserve our island.


LESELAM's observatory will continue monitoring run-off and erosion for the next three rainy seasons as part of phase 3 of the LESELAM project. The conservation techniques that were tested during LESELAM 2 will be deployed on larger-scale sites such as Doujani's periurban site or Mro Mouhou's agricultural site. The goal is for the population, primary schoolers, high schoolers, like those at Coconi Agricultural School, farmers, villagers, or community technicians, to start using these methods themselves so that erosion is no longer inevitable on the island of Mayotte and to limit, as much as possible, the siltation of the lagoon.

LESELAM: building your house in Mayotte while protecting the soil

In Mayotte, a large number of individual houses are built on sloping plots of land, sometimes outside of building zones. Earthworks and construction work often cause severe soil erosion.

However, solutions exist to control erosion on building sites. They are introduced to us by Baptiste Vignerot (BRGM), as part of the LESELAM project, which aims to understand soil erosion in Mayotte and to raise awareness among the population in order to limit soil loss, both in urban and agricultural areas.


Controlling Erosion in Mayotte

Building your home while protecting the soil

In Mayotte, during the wet season, rainy episodes can be very intense. Falling on bare ground, in the city and agricultural areas, raindrops detach fine particles of land that are washed away. The water flows down relatively steep slopes and creates channels carrying large quantities of sediments to rivers and the sea. This water can contain up to 20 kilos of earth per cubic metre. And the flows observed are sometimes real mudslides. The sediment ends up in one of the world's most beautiful lagoons which is silting up. In Mstamboro, in the north, Mavouna Abdou Ali is responsible for a scientific programme monitoring erosion. After the rain, he measures the quantity of soil accumulated in a sediment trap. He cleans the monitors. There was more building this year. A lot of soil was swept away. That was from last night alone. When it rains, several tons are swept away. The LESELAM project scientists estimate that the erosion brings 20,000 tons of earth to the lagoon each year. Mavouna has brought us to a typical building site for Mahoran houses. The house is about 50 m2 and is built on quite a steep slope of 20 to 30 degrees. I'll show you the problems we identified. The first one is the access path. There is a great deal of erosion after only 6 months of work. There are rills and gullies a dozen centimetres deep. Secondly, the levelling work. To level out the ground, soil had to be removed and then evacuated. All the soil that was removed wasn't evacuated but placed on the slope. It is about 1 metre thick. This metre of soil, is not stable. When it rains, gullies form. To limit erosion, when building your own home, there are three points to respect when designing your house. First, there must be no backfill downstream of the dwelling with the materials removed for levelling. If materials are not reused, they must be evacuated by truck to a repository. The second point consists in stabilizing the slope behind the house. To do so, the slope can be made less steep. You can also build a retaining wall or use vegetation. It is essential to build a collection and evacuation system for rainwater on the plot and the roof to prevent gullying on the ground. Erosion can also be prevented by effective management during construction. Obviously, you mustn't level during the rainy season. Otherwise, most of the earth will be swept into the lagoon each time it rains. Construction time must be rapid and limit the period the slopes and heaps of earth are exposed to rainy conditions between the levelling and construction phases. Heaps of earth must be covered when kept on site. To do so, plant mulching or barriers can be used, to avoid earth being swept away. Access to the site must be covered with large stones or rubble, to prevent mud from the site falling on to the road or into rainwater networks. Every year, around 3,500 houses are built in Mayotte. More and more are situated in no-construction zones, often on steep slopes, where levelling works are necessary. By 2035, Mayotte will need 44,000 new houses according to INSEE population forecasts. If building methods don't change, over 300,000 tons of sediment will be swept into the lagoon and 450 hectares of farm land will disappear. Residents, officials, builders and state services, it is our responsibility to each do our bit to preserve and hand down to our children the wonderful natural heritage of Mayotte.

LESELAM: what will agriculture look like in Mayotte in 2035?

In Mayotte, the face of agriculture is changing very rapidly, often resulting in the deterioration of natural resources and, in particular, a risk of soil erosion.

To try and predict how the phenomenon of erosion will evolve, the LESELAM project team carried out a forward-looking agricultural study to establish several contrasting scenarios concerning changes in the use of land in agricultural areas. The scenarios, which were established using information gathered through interviews with local stakeholders, were then discussed in several working groups, involving farmers, union representatives, agricultural advisers and local institutions.


BRGM: Geoscience for a Sustainable Earth

Fight against Soil Erosion and Siltation of the Lagoon

Agricultural Outlook for Mayotte in 2035

An Exercise in Participative Forecasting

Among other things, our project is looking at how soil erosion will change in the future.

The answer depends on how we humans use land in the future, how we manage urbanization issues and the type of agriculture we practise there.

To anticipate future changes in agriculture, we decided to implement participative forecasting.

Our goal was to consider the future with local people and to envision how agriculture might change in the long term. We chose 2035 as our horizon. 15 years isn't much, but it is for Mayotte as things change quickly here.

To conduct our exploration of the future, we called upon several groups of people, who worked in tandem. We worked with the state, the regional council, the agriculture department, the land management bureau, and a group of small farmers consisting of a dozen people from our research basin in Mtsamboro in the north.

To help our participants imagine the future, we created three scenarios for 3 possible agricultural transformations. The first imagines current problems continue, which would prevent the emergence of professional, entrepreneurial agriculture. The goal is to make participants think about the result of inaction or what will happen if voluntary policies are not implemented. The other scenarios involve voluntary policies. This lays out actions to enable the development of small family-run agriculture that would add value. The aim is to involve as many locals as possible. The third scenario imagines investor involvement. So more productive companies in limited numbers, which involve fewer farmers, thus leaving more people out in the cold.

The scenarios were presented as fictitious articles describing the imagined changes.

The workshops lasted about three to four hours, with 45 minutes dedicated to each scenario. To foster productive debates, participation was limited to ten people, so all could speak. The workshop ended with a short questionnaire. After discussing each scenario, they answered questions, allowing us to quantify their final positions.

To work with small farmers, our approach had to be adapted as our method was based upon articles written in French. This was not ideal for the farmers, some of whom were illiterate. So the scenarios were summarized orally. The farmers fully understood the scenarios and the related hypotheses. Then we asked them to tell us how the scenarios could be adapted to their farms and for their farmers' group. For this, we used simplified representations of farms. We presented the example of a collective farm, as proposed in one of the scenarios, and we asked them how they would organize collectively for a project of this type. The discussion was rich and lively. Some people in the group espoused a traditional approach while others took a more innovative approach. The workshops brought these ideas to the fore. Interesting conclusions were drawn. This way of bringing farmers together to reflect was new for them. And the fact is, there's a long way to go before a project emerges from within the group.

To conclude, we organized a follow-up session with all of the participants.

This session allowed the groups to share their conclusions. We saw that there was little disagreement among them and that they had moved towards a shared vision of the agriculture they wished to develop by 2035. The workshops provoked reflection on the future, but there's much to do. Other people will take over now, to define an agricultural development strategy as well as envision and plan concrete actions to achieve the scenarios that we discussed.

Combating soil erosion in Mayotte

The LESELAM project aims to combat soil erosion in Mayotte in order to achieve a sustainable balance between the development of agriculture and rural communities while protecting the quality of the lagoon environment.

© Naturalistes de Mayotte

Most soil erosion in Mayotte is caused by heavy tropical rainfall on unprotected ground. The high pressure that man exerts on various environments - agricultural and urban - accelerates this erosion. Soil erosion is a major problem in Mayotte. It threatens the survival of both the lagoon and farmland. It was to better understand, prevent and remedy the problems of soil erosion that LESELAM was created. The project has three objectives: to quantify the problems of erosion in several pilot catchment basins; to deploy demonstrators for remedial practices; and to educate and make aware those faced with these problems.

Climatological and hydrological measuring stations are installed on 3 catchment basins in Mayotte. Two agroforestry basins: this one, Mro Oua Bandrani, and Salim Bé, south of Dembeni. And one heavily urbanized basin: Mtsamboro, in the north of Mayotte. The results from the rainy seasons in 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 showed elevated erosion in the urbanized basin of Mtsamboro, where 6 to 10 tonnes of soil per hectare end up in the lagoon, compared to only 0.25 tonnes per hectare in the two agroforestry catchment basins.

To fight soil erosion, there are several techniques. On farmland, and in urban and suburban parks and gardens, we implement conservation planting, and soil restoration and protection, notably mulch. In purely urban areas, notably those with embankments, and in areas with construction sites, we protect the soil with vegetation and make sure development and construction rules are adhered to.

To facilitate the adoption of these solutions, we have implemented a number of awareness schemes, with information meetings, conferences, surveys and awareness workshops. We also created sign-boards and a website to contain all of the information.

We want to extend the project with LESELAM 2, so as to put in place concrete measures to fight erosion and to increase from several catchment areas to the whole country, so as to reduce the negative impacts of soil erosion in Mayotte.