Nelly Bassily | October 13, 2008
On the streets of Dakar, heaps of watermelons signal the beginning of harvest time. The sweet fruit enrobed in green rind is piled high in the market. On every street corner, it seems, someone is bargaining for a taste of the juicy fruit.
A Senegalese newspaper reporter stopped a man on his way to buy watermelon. The avid consumer summed up the feelings of many people. He says he loves watermelon – it’s juicy, nutritious, and it quenches your thirst.
It’s harvest time in many African countries – a busy time for farmers, as they gather their crops and prepare to sell or store them. It’s also a time when food is much appreciated – whether it’s a sweet and juicy watermelon, savoury onion, or essential grain.
In Sokoto State, northwestern Nigeria, farmers take pride in their latest onion harvest. Nigeria is one of the top onion producers in sub-Saharan Africa, growing more than 600,000 metric tonnes each year.
Sokoto onions are especially prized. Mallam Sani Hassan is one of thousands of onion growers in the state. He explains that Sokoto onions are known for being bright, red and purple Every Monday and Friday, the Kara Onion Market in Sokoto is a beehive of activity. Vehicles are stationed at strategic points in the market, ready to collect freshly-harvested onions and ship them across the country. Other onions are transported directly from the field into storage. Mr. Hassan explains that onions can be preserved for up to five months, if stacked and covered with a thatched roof.
Reaping, storing, marketing, and eating freshly harvested food are bi-annual rituals in most farming communities. But in those areas where farming was previously impossible, due to conflict or extreme weather, this harvest season has special meaning.
The Northern Uganda Agricultural Centre was established to restore rice production to the area in the wake of civil conflict. Johansen Kim is director of the centre. He said that the first crop of rice has been harvested, and has found a ready market. Some will be sold as seeds to other African countries, continuing the agricultural production cycle.
Back in Dakar, other seasonal crops such as maize and groundnuts join watermelons in the market. But watermelons remain the seasonal favourite. Badara Pouye is one of the farmers who keep markets teeming with watermelons. For his part, he’s grateful for the enthusiasm of consumers, which allows him to earn a return on his investment in the short time that the fruit is fresh.
Click here to see the notes to broadcasters on harvest season