Nelly Bassily | August 13, 2012
Pope Mokhtar Diallo lives in the village of Boyinadji in northern Senegal. Like many young Africans, the 24-year-old used to set his sights beyond the village.
Everything changed for Mr. Diallo when he became part of an agricultural co-operative called Société d’Intensification de la Production Agricole, or SIPA. He explains: “SIPA helps us to earn a living. Before, I was obsessed with the idea of leaving, but today I am a shopkeeper. I earn 25,000 CFA francs (about 46 US dollars) per month and I am also part of the co-operative. I do not even think about leaving.”
African cities have grown quickly in recent decades. Rapid rural-to-urban migration has been linked to problems in both cities and villages. While it contributes to growing slums, it can also deprive rural areas of the skills and energy of young people.
But there is some evidence that the tide is turning. Growth has slowed in some African cities. Projects to engage youth in rural livelihoods are encouraging this new trend. In Boyinadji, SIPA gives local youth a reason to stay on the land.
Two years ago, 30 hectares of land was allocated to 150 farmers. Today, it is a vibrant farm tended by co-op members. They grow cash crops for the market and vegetables for their own consumption.
Mamoudou Thiam is the manager of SIPA. He boasts of the co-op’s success last year, “We produced eight tonnes of watermelons, 12 tonnes of maize, and … three tonnes of peanuts.” After paying their bills, the co-op earned an income of two million CFA francs.
This year, the co-op’s fields are sprouting with new crops such as tomatoes, cabbages, okra, peppers, and lettuce. Even more promising, Mr. Thiam says, are the growing opportunities for young men and women who might otherwise leave the village.
Aissatou Dia is 25. Carrying her hoe, she talks about her farming work. In addition to working with SIPA, she is responsible for a women’s agricultural association in the village. She has seen how co-operatives create jobs and improve the nutritional status of local families.
Ms. Dia says joyfully, “Last year, after selling our products, I was able to save 80,000 CFA francs (150 US dollars). Even though I grew only for my own consumption.”
SIPA was established with funding from the West African Development Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. While the hard work of co-op members keeps crops growing, some members believe the government could do more to support such projects. One member said that electrification, market support, and farmer training would promote more success, and encourage more rural youth to stay in their village.