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November 19, 2008

Senegalese celebration of farming initiative may be premature

Six months after President Abdoulaye Wade launched his agricultural growth initiative, small-scale farmers had mixed reviews even as the President on 27 October celebrated the initiative, touting record harvests for 2008.

The Grand Agricultural Offensive for Food Security, or GOANA, was launched by President Wade in May 2008, with the aim of reaching self-sufficiency in Senegal's food production by 2015. Doubling rice production, and increasing maize and manioc yields to two million and three million tonnes respectively, is one part of the scheme.

Senegal imports 600,000 tonnes of rice a year, or three-quarters of the country’s food consumption, making its people vulnerable to high global rice prices.

Under GOANA the government subsidised seeds by 75 percent to 20 US cents per kilogram, and cut the price of fertiliser in half, making it $US17 for per 50kg.

Six months into GOANA, the Ministry of Agriculture predicts a harvest of 1.8 million tonnes of cereal, a 136 percent increase over last year’s yields. The government estimates yields of over 700,000 tonnes of millet, 500,000 tonnes of maize and 380,000 tons of non-irrigated rice in 2008.

At the 27 October event, thousands of supporters, farmers and members of agricultural organisations gathered opposite the presidential palace in the capital Dakar to showcase their produce. Farmers displayed peanuts, fonio, rice, millet, bananas and vegetables.

President Wade said to the crowd, “The GOANA results show that we have resources. If we’d had help from external donors, we could have done more… But you have achieved record harvests compared to last year. This means that one must always be self-reliant.”

Several factors contributed to the good 2008 harvest, said Oumar Samba Ndiaye, director of production at the government Market Regulation Agency. “The number of seeds and fertilisers distributed, the amount of rain and pest levels contributed to this year’s yield,” he said.

Senegal saw good rains in 2008 compared to a
late, short rainy season in 2007.

But Boubacar Cissé, spokesperson for the National Council for Rural Cooperation and Consultation -- a non-profit organisation representing small-scale farmers -- said that not all of the seeds distributed through GOANA arrived in time to plant, and some were of low quality.

“We find it difficult to take this [136 percent figure] at face value. Not all of the seeds distributed were sown, and not all of the fertiliser was used. For one hectare, you need at least 150kg of seeds. But small farmers cannot buy this amount of grain, even at subsidised prices. Opportunists are cashing in instead by buying the reduced-cost seeds through farmers, and then selling it at higher market prices.”

As a result, not all of the small-scale farmers for whom the subsidies were intended have been able to plant seeds, Cissé said.

Three small-scale farmers from different regions of Senegal were interviewed about their experience growing crops post-GOANA.

Aliou Camara, from Kolda region, 335km south of Dakar, produces fonio.

"With the lack of fertilisers and the jump in rice prices, things were really difficult at the beginning of the year. People were eating the seeds instead of planting them because they were hungry.

"GOANA is excellent because the small farmers are now able to produce on a larger scale. This year we produced 50 hectares of fonio, whereas before we were just producing for our families. The year before we didn’t even bother to count how many hectares we produced.

"Senegalese like to eat fonio because it contains no sugar, good for diabetics, and it’s rich in nutrients. But the problem with it is that converting it into food takes time if you don’t have machines. It takes us more than a week to process five hectares of fonio. We need machines if we are going to develop fonio production further."

Adama Ndao, from Tambacounda, 420km east of Dakar, is secretary general of regional banana producers group.

“In Tambacounda we produce 95 percent of Senegal’s bananas. We had enormous difficulties earlier in the year, most of all regarding our marketing and sales. We had 1,000 tons of bananas in the production zone that we could not sell. We had difficulty with traders and people buying bananas on credit, because they didn’t have enough money.

“We are still experiencing problems with these supply chains. That is part of the reason that we are here at this event – to show our gratitude for the President’s initiative but also to explain our problems.

“It’s difficult to transport our product to market, so it is hard to sell. We sell to the local [Senegalese] market, but at the moment it is not profitable because we produce, but then are not able to sell our products.”

Abdou Salamy Barry, Casamance region, 450km south of Dakar, grows maize, millet, rice and beans

“For a long time many families here lived on the brink of starvation before the first crops are harvested in early September. We eat rice mostly and the price of a 50kg sack has doubled, so no father can assure his family’s food needs.

“We have not felt the effects of GOANA in this zone. We haven’t received any material from the government, nor any subsidies. Seeds arrived in August, halfway through the rainy season. So we just did what we could with our own seeds.

“The tractors, promised by the government, have not been distributed to the farmers so we planted with our normal hoes. We haven’t really profited enough from the rainy season. Many fields have been cleared but not cultivated.

“We are expecting high yields but this is a result of the good rains throughout the country, not of GOANA. And this doesn’t mean that people here are food secure. The amount harvested allows us to cover some of our food needs, but we will continue to buy rice and other cereals in the shops.

“If the government wants the people to achieve food self-sufficiency in Casamance, [the government] must equip small-scale farmers with modern agricultural materials. Above all, they must consider irrigated farming and not just farming that relies on rainy seasons.

“The good rains are often not on time. It is utopian to think that we can achieve self-sufficiency relying only on the rain.”


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