Dioule Gueye sits on the floor of his large shop, his dark, jovial face framed by a hat the colours of the Senegalese flag. The shop is full of bags of different kinds of rice. The 30-year-old entrepreneur has been selling rice in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, since he dropped out of school at age 12.
Although he is hours away from the rice fields of northern Senegal, Mr. Gueye and other young city dwellers have found jobs transporting and selling this staple.
Mr. Gueye’s first retail shop was nine square metres in one of Dakar’s high-density residential neighbourhoods. There, he sold rice grown in the Saint Louis region of northern Senegal. Every two weeks, Mr. Gueye rented a truck for 60,000 CFA francs (US$107) and travelled 270 kilometres to stock up. While he was away, a young friend took care of the shop.
Mr. Gueye worked 14 hours a day for two years in an effort to support his family and expand his business. He wanted to be able to buy and sell other varieties of rice that his customers enjoy. Local rice is popular in Dakar, but many customers prefer imported varieties.
Mr. Gueye says: “Despite its nutritional value, local rice is slow to catch on here. Even though imported rice costs more, Senegalese people prefer it because it’s easier to prepare. But the local rice is more nutritious.”
Few of the city’s biggest shops sell local rice, so some customers don’t know that it’s available. Mr. Gueye takes advantage of agriculture and food fairs to promote his local rice.
During his fourth year selling rice, Mr. Gueye saved enough money to open a bigger shop where he sells rice to other shopkeepers for lower prices.
Mr. Gueye says: “Since I started selling rice, my daily life has changed considerably. With the income from the sale of rice, I set up a poultry farm where I’ve hired family members who were unemployed.”
Samba Diagne is a 19-year-old student who spends his spare time selling rice from his family’s farm. Mr. Diagne is from Waalo, a rice-producing region in northwestern Senegal, but lives with extended family in Dakar. He sells both whole and broken rice, depending on his customers’ preference.
But Mr. Diagne wants to process his rice, not just sell it.
He says: “When I look at my clients’ habits, I could even set up a rice processing unit and make cereal for added value. That would be a bonus. After my studies, I will go and learn how to make cereal from the rice that my family produces.”
Right now, Mr. Diagne’s main challenge is balancing his studies with his work selling rice. But, he adds, he wouldn’t even be at school if it weren’t for his job in the family rice business.
He adds, “Selling rice during my school holidays has always allowed me to make enough profit to pay for my school fees, supplies, and clothes, and assures me a relaxed school year.”
Ibrahima Ly is coordinator of La Plateforme des initiatives du Nord, a Senegalese organization that aims to improve food security by promoting local rice.
Mr. Ly says government authorities are working on supporting rice farmers by promoting local rice in cities.
He says, “The outlook for local rice is positive; it sells well, because a great deal of effort has been made to improve its quality, which means urban consumers appreciate it more and more.”
Khaly Fall is a Uniterra volunteer based in Dakar, Senegal. 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.