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November 05, 2009

Senegal youth shun farming

Landmines and armed attacks in Senegal’s Casamance region are preventing farmers from maximizing production from the region’s fertile soil, but there is another problem, too: not enough young people are taking up farming, residents and experts say.

The increasingly urbanized youth are often reluctant to help with digging and hoeing, even during the holidays, forcing some families to pay day workers to do the job.

“I cultivate a much smaller area than in the past, because I have to pay people to work my land,” said farmer Catherine Badiane, in her 50s, who lost her husband years ago. “Each year I pay people to work my land. My sons, most of whom live in Dakar, refuse to come back to Casamance to farm. When I ask them to come, they say they are busy...

“My produce is not even enough to cover myself and my grandchildren for eight months. I really should be able to feed the family year round by farming. I have had to start trading in Ziguinchor [Casamance’s main city] market so we can get by. This year there was plenty of rain, but I did not grow much; I just cannot afford the workers.”

Poverty levels in Casamance are among the highest in Senegal at more than 60 percent, with nearly half of households vulnerable to food insecurity, according to a 2007 UN World Food Programme (WFP) study.

Despite poverty and unemployment in the region finding non-family members to work the farm is not always easy, residents said. Lined up along a road on the outskirts of Ziguinchor almost daily – especially during the rainy season – are women waiting for workers.

“It is hell for them to find people who will accept this work," François Sagna of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) told IRIN. "The consequence: A lot of land – particularly rice fields – is not exploited. This has increased the suffering of some families who have a hard time feeding themselves during certain periods of the year.” CRS has a number of agricultural and nutrition projects in the region.

Abdel Kader Coly is an agriculture expert with PADERCA (Projet d'Appui au Développement Rural en Casamance). PADERCA, along with WFP, assists communities in reviving rice fields engulfed by salt water. He said it was important to lure youths back to the land.

“We are investing a lot in agricultural infrastructure… The process of retrieving these valleys is under way, ” Coly said. “Eventually we will come to a point where a lot of land will have been restored for use. But most people work with traditional tools. The problem is that the population that could farm this land are aging, and we find fewer and fewer youths doing this work.”

He said mechanization was essential. “That could mean ox-drawn carts, tractors – but we really must think seriously about mechanization… to really succeed in developing the land. Were this realized, this region alone could cover not only the rice needs of Casamance but of other regions as well. We could contribute significantly to rice self-sufficiency in Senegal.”

But those with other opportunities appear reluctant to go back to the land: “Farming with the `kadiandou’ [traditional long shovel] is tough, especially in the rice fields during the rainy season. You expend a lot of energy, sometimes to the point of becoming ill,” said Matar Diémé, 27, a builder’s apprentice in Ziguinchor.


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