Sliced onions, spices, and peppers fill a plastic bowl on a shelf in Seynabou Gaelle Diop Diongue’s kitchen. For today’s lunch, the mother of three wants to prepare yassa au poulet for her family. Yassa is a sauce of onions in oil, accompanied by both white rice and, preferably, local rice, which Mrs. Diongue says is more easily digested than the imported kind.
She sits on a wooden stool, sweating profusely. She has just run from shop to shop looking for local rice in Fass, her neighbourhood of Dakar, the capital of Senegal.
Frustrated and disappointed, she says, “It’s not easy to find local rice in the shops. It’s not like imported rice which is available everywhere. It’s really too bad, and it annoys me.”
Local rice is cheaper than imported rice, and some people prefer it. But if Mrs. Diongue wants local rice, she has to take a taxi 10 kilometres to the Thiaroye market. The taxi fare is an extra cost that eats into her modest daily food budget.
Saydou Gueye is a spokesperson for the Senegalese government. To encourage Senegalese rice farmers and promote consumption, the government has begun buying and distributing rice. Mr. Gueye says that Senegal produced more than a million tonnes of rice during the 2017/18 growing season. That’s more than previous years, and it should mean that local rice is more widely available, at least in densely-populated urban areas with many consumers. But local rice remains rare in Dakar’s shops, and many consumers don’t understand why. It’s easy to find in supermarkets, but many lower income households don’t shop in these big shopping centres.
Alioune Mbodj grows rice. He says that, to boost sales of local rice, farmers want to organize neighbourhood points of sale. Some city vendors don’t want to deal in local rice, concerned that consumers may see it as an inferior product and not buy it. Because local rice is not widely available in cities, some farmers were unable to find buyers and abandoned their fields. This has led to problems supplying Senegal’s rice mills.
Mr. Mbodj is also an administrative officer for the business consortium Mbodj et frères, which owns a rice mill in the Senegal River Valley. Activity at the mill, like many others in the valley, stopped in May 2018 because they didn’t have enough paddy rice, or whole-grain unprocessed rice, to continue. There is no longer enough rice to keep all the rice mills in the area functioning full-time.
But Mr. Mbodj remains optimistic. He says he is “convinced of the good quality of local rice which can compete with imported [rice], even if production is insufficient at the moment.”
The rice producers’ association plans to raise awareness among importers, and say importers are partly responsible for the lack of access to local rice. Mr. Mbodj says that many importers “prefer to import rice instead of buying local rice and making it available in their wide sales networks.”
Waly Diouf is the director of the national rice self-sufficiency program. He says government authorities support rice producers’ efforts, and adds that “steps have been taken.” The government started buying producers’ harvests and organizing their distribution last year. The goal is to encourage farmers to continue growing rice by guaranteeing buyers for their crops, and to increase the visibility and availability of local rice for consumers.
The government has also launched campaigns to promote eating local rice. Mr. Diouf says, “It is easier to find local rice in big supermarkets than it was five years ago.”
Thanks to this government policy, during the 2017/18 season, rice farmers sold all of their harvest. National production increased from 950,000 tonnes in 2016/17 to 1,015,000 tonnes in 2017/18.
The government wants Senegal to be self-sufficient in rice production by 2035. In 2016/17 the country imported 860,000 tonnes of rice. People in Senegal consume between 50 and 100 kilograms of rice per year, which is more than any other country in West Africa.
Uniterra is a program implemented by CECI-WUSC, working in Senegal with local partners in the rice, groundnut, poultry, and market gardening sub-sectors to help youth and women access better economic opportunities. The objective is to reinforce the economic power of women and youth by developing their entrepreneurial spirit. The Uniterra program provided funding and technical support for the production of this story. CECI and WUSC are financially supported by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada, www.international.gc.ca. For more information you can follow Uniterra Senegal on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cecisenegal.