Senegal: Rice farmers want to change the reputation of local rice

December 08, 2019
A translation for this article is available in French

Ibrahima Ly is a big rice producer in northern Senegal, growing irrigated rice in the Senegal River Valley. But Mr. Ly isn’t celebrating his success. Instead, he is concerned about competition from Asian rice, which many buyers prefer.

He has not lost hope that his fellow Senegalese will choose local rice one day. But there is still a big hurdle—educating people on the benefits of local rice. He explains: “Senegalese consumers do not know that local rice is superior to imported rice and contains numerous [beneficial] qualities: [it has] less sugar, [is] more digestible and [is] inexpensive.”

A series of myths persist and slow sales of local rice. Many people believe that there are small particles of sand or dirty grains in local rice. They think the rice must be washed before cooking to achieve the same results as Asian rice.

Senegalese rice farmers have difficulty selling their rice, and large quantities of rice are imported. Senegal is the second-largest importer of rice in Africa, behind Nigeria.

Mr. Ly would like Senegalese consumers to develop a new habit of buying local rice. But this is only possible if producers publicize the benefits of local rice, which includes a lower price.

Seydou Nourou Sy is also a rice producer. He is pushing for more local rice in department stores, supermarkets, and stores in the highly-populated suburbs of Dakar.

Mr. Sy is inviting other value chain actors to publicize the benefits of local rice so that consumers can buy with confidence. He says: “We should not allow consumers to make a choice other than local rice because it is better. Local rice, if well-nurtured and -managed, could become consumers’ preferred choice.”

Fortunately, not all consumers casually reject local rice. Some consume it regularly and recognize that it has the same quality standards as Asian rice. Ndeye Ndiaye is a mother of six who lives in the suburbs of Dakar. She buys local rice to cook thieboudieune (rice with fish).

Mrs. Ndiaye says choosing Senegalese rice is also a patriotic duty. She explains, “I prefer to support my farmer parents instead of choosing foreign imports.”

Another issue is the number of local varieties. Senegalese farmers grow about 15 varieties of rice. Mr. Sy and Mr. Ly say it would be preferable to focus on certain well-producing varieties, such as Sahel 108 and Sahel 177.

But what’s most important for producers is ensuring that consumers are well-informed about the quality of local rice. They believe that, once people eat local rice, everyone will be a winner.

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.