Senegal – Food security in rural areas relies upon the substantial empowerment of women

Dakar - In Senegal, 60% of the active population live in rural areas and earn most of their income from activities in the primary sector: agriculture, animal farming, fishing and forest produce. The population is afflicted by severe poverty: this is true especially for women, young people and micro-farmers, who survive thanks to subsistence family agriculture conducted on diminutive plots of land. The situation of rural families is worsened by the fact that many rural zones are so isolated that they have little or no access to even the most basic of services. In these contexts, the level of food security continues to be highly unsatisfactory.

The example of rice – Senegal’s most frequently consumed cereal – is illuminating: only one third of the country’s annual consumption of rice is produced within the country. 
Women, who perform 70% of the agricultural work, look after their family’s smallholding produce, or else that of tiny individual plots or perimeter fractions of collective vegetable patches.
 Because Senegalese agriculture remains largely unmodernised, and very little mechanical agricultural equipment is available, most women have to produce food through hard manual labour, at the same time as cooking for their families. The country’s landowning system has been waiting in vain for years for much needed reform, but it remains based on a cultural tradition whereby the women are merely ‘allowed to use’ land allotted to them by the heads of their families.

The need to tackle these conditions lies behind the launch of the Italian Development Cooperation Agency’s support programme for Senegal’s National Agricultural Investment Programme (PAPSEN), with the aim of boosting agricultural production, improving rural income, increasing food security, promoting local economic development and favouring female empowerment.

PAPSEN has already contributed to increasing income in selected rural communities by diversifying agricultural produce, spreading the use of modern agricultural practices and improving farmer’s technical and entrepreneurial skills. The main initiatives have been focused on improving water systems in valley rice-growing areas, providing agricultural supplies (seeds and fertilisers) and equipment, offering training and technical assistance for agricultural operators, and supporting the development of small companies and public-private partnerships. Local communities are at the centre of the various mechanisms for supporting development in the field. The construction or repair of rural roads, the creation of social and community infrastructure, support for evolving communal planning processes and training local administrators... these are further invaluable activities for encouraging territorial development.

In the Thies, Diourbel and Fatick regions, 400 hectares will be prepared for drop-by-drop irrigation horticulture, divided into small community enterprises farming between 5 and 20 hectares. In Diourbel, a reference centre will be created, to provide training and technical assistance services to male and female horticultural operators. Furthermore, a notable increase in rain-irrigated rice-growing area is planned, thanks to water system improvement in 10,000 hectares of valley terrain in the Upper and Middle Casamance area. On top of this, roughly 100 km of new rural roads will be constructed, along with a hundred social and community infrastructure facilities for the storage and sale of agricultural produce.

Farmers in Sedhiou and Kolda – mostly of them women – have been trained and have received technical assistance in managing irrigation systems and crop-growing techniques. An agricultural credit fund will be made available, in collaboration with nearby financial entities, in order to help create and develop small agricultural and food production companies.

On top of the technical and financial support for agricultural production and rural development, the programme is also carrying out a participatory diagnosis in its targeted zones, in order to identify the obstacles and priorities for women in rural areas. The goal is to develop – together with Senegal’s Ministry of Agriculture – a skills transfer aimed at establishing methods for measuring the impact of government initiatives on the empowerment of women, and at guiding government choices on food security in a gender equality perspective.

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