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August 31, 2008

Senegalese smallholder fruit and vegetable irrigation project begins exports

Less than a year ago, the land around this small Senegalese village was parched bush pasture, studded with thick-trunked, knobbly baobab trees.

But over the last six months, ground pockmarked with anthills that lay hard and idle during the nine-month dry season has blossomed through irrigation into a thriving small commercial farm thanks to an aid project funded by Spain.

Trained and assisted by Spanish agriculture experts, around 100 peasant farmers and their families have become international exporters of melons to supermarkets in Spain and Britain in a commercial tie-up with a private Spanish farm company.

"Now there's money in the village," beamed Amy Diouf, her baby son strapped to her back, as she stood in fields crossed with plastic irrigation tubes that drip-feed moisture to crops planted at Djilakh farm, 80 km southeast of Dakar.

To carve Djilakh farm out of the bush, Spain's government development cooperation agency AECID used modest initial project funding of nearly 600,000 euros ($880,000) to build an access road, sink a well, lay down irrigation, put up a warehouse, train the farmers and help guarantee essential inputs.

AECID will provide an additional 785,000 euros ($1.2 million) to expand the farm's irrigated land from 25 to 50 hectares. It helped organize the process that selected a farm produce exporter, Feralca, to market Djilakh's melons.

"This ensured a sales outlet, the lack of which is often one of the biggest weaknesses of agriculture development projects," said Juan Jose Lavin, who is in charge of Spanish development cooperation programs in Senegal.

For the villagers of Djilakh, their Spanish-backed farm means they can now earn a profitable living close to home during the nine-month dry season, instead of having to migrate to the coast or the capital Dakar to try to scrabble for survival.

The farm's 100 members are grouped into five "economic interest groups," including two women's groups. "The most important thing is that they are working for themselves," said Gregorio Velasco Gil, an agronomist with the Spanish state agricultural development company Tragsa.

Six months of labor this year produced several hundred tonnes of melons and vegetables like courgettes for export and local sale. Each Djilakh farm member earned more than 250,000 CFA francs ($560) -- a small fortune for Senegalese peasants.


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