Fatimata Sow stands in the village square, gazing at the vast landscape of arid ground dotted with the stumps of trees. She can no longer farm on this land because a multinational company, Senhuile, took over the surrounding land five years ago.
She says, “Life here is precarious, especially for women.”
The 42-year-old hails from Thiamene, a tiny village of straw huts on the periphery of the Ndiael Wildlife Reserve in northern Senegal. She says farmers in her area used to make a living by collecting wild baobab fruit and selling cow’s milk. But their earnings have drastically decreased since the multinational company took over the surrounding land and blocked their paths to the local market and river.
Mrs. Sow adds that Senhuile sprays pesticides which keep their animals from grazing on the land.
She says that, because farmland is now scarce, most men in her community have found jobs in the nearby town. It is the women who work in gardens and raise animals in order to keep their families fed.
She adds, “The unhappiness and suffering we have lived from the impact of [Senhuile] is hard to express.”
To address their challenges, Mrs. Sow organized the women in her community to protect their land. Solange Bandiaky-Badji is the Africa director of a US-based NGO called Rights and Resources Initiative. She says it used to be unthinkable for women to be part of the decision-making process around land at the local or national levels. But now, she explains, “Women are organizing [themselves] for change.”
The women are taking a stand by using a mobile phone application designed to help women buy land. The application allows women to start the buying process without identifying their gender.
In addition, civil society groups are rallying female farmers to stand up and demand their land back from multinationals.
Female lawyers in Senegal are working with civil society to help women like Mrs. Sow understand their rights to land and gain legal recognition.
Yande Ndiaye is a lawyer with the Association of Senegalese Women Lawyers. She says there is a gender gap in land rights in Senegal, although it is not enshrined in the formal legal regime. She adds, “It [the right to land] is not just a problem for women.”
Amadou Sow is the chief in Thiamene village. He says that, although multinational companies have provided jobs and infrastructure to local people, many farmers in his area say the companies have brought more harm than good. Mr. Sow says that it was the women who said no to the company, and have led the fight since the beginning.
Diariy Sow is an older woman in Thiamene village. She says that women are worried about what the future will look like for their children. She adds, “Since time immemorial, we only know this place. This is where our future generations have to be.”
Despite these challenges, Mrs. Sow and the other women in Ndiael are not only relying on the law to help them. Last year, they reclaimed a small plot of land from Senhuile by building crude fences out of sticks and planting watermelons.
This article is based on a story titled “Armed with apps and crops, women lead battle to save Senegal’s shrinking farmland.” To read the full story, go to: http://news.trust.org/item/20170116140527-292vm/
Photo: Fatimata Sow, credit TRF / Nellie Peyton