Hélène Boucher | April 14, 2019
Since the 1960s, rice has become widespread throughout teranga, the land of Senegalese hospitality. Here, rice is cultivated in three different environments: irrigated, rainfed lowland, or upland. And rice certainly occupies a primary place in daily meals as an inseparable companion to local dishes like thiéboudienne, mafa, or yassa. But many Senegalese choose to purchase perfumed Asian rice, rather than a sack of locally-grown rice.
In the home of Odile Ndiaye, a mother of three children who lives in the suburbs of Dakar, the children and Mrs. Ndiaye’s husband are waiting for their daily portion of rice. In addition to her housework duties, she also cleans a large house in the Point E neighbourhood of Dakar, not far from the Cheikh Anta Diop University. She consistently buys Asian rice rather than local because “it’s already ready to cook, cleaned, and that makes things easier.”
And it’s not just busy wives who are choosing Asian rice. Restaurant chefs must also choose between Senegalese and Asian rice. But for them, the choice isn’t just about which one is easier to prepare, but about what type of rice will satisfy their clients.
The popular restaurant Barracuda is located in the seaside commune of Ngor, far from tumultuous downtown Dakar. Here, the talented chef Codou N’Diaye prepares between two and four Senegalese plates every day. Her diverse menu is fixed price and affordable, at about 1,500 FCFA ($2.50 US) per plate. The menu includes rice dishes, vermicelli, and vegetables as a side dish.
Her choice of rice varies with cooking method. When it comes to frying rice, she prefers to use Senegalese rice, because the grains react better to hot oil. For boiling, she unhesitatingly chooses Asian rice. She says, “Senegalese largely prefer Asian rice because the myth persists that local rice has tiny pebbles that are unfit to eat.”
On the other hand, local rice doesn’t contain much sugar and is good for digestion, which distinguishes it from its Asian competitor.
Mrs. N’Diaye says that she would be happy to cook more local rice rather than the Asian variety, but a lack of availability and quality means she is not able to cook using only local ingredients.
Rice farmers would of course prefer if everyone ate local rice. Across the country, more than a million tonnes of rice were produced during the 2017/18 growing season.
Maguette Niane Seye is coordinator of the Fédération des Périmètres Autogérés, a union of rice producers. She is also a local development engineer and a specialist in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). She acknowledges that Senegalese rice farmers face competition from imported rice. She explains, “Asian rice is more widespread and less expensive in Senegal, and women here have been used to preparing it for years.”
Located in the Senegal River valley 300 km from Dakar, the farmers’ organization promotes local rice through advertisements and other marketing strategies that encourage Senegalese people to buy local rice.
In addition to farming 11,000 hectares, of which about 80% is dedicated to rice, these producers benefit from training twice a year on production methods, and follow strict quality and inspection standards. They also process and market the rice in the valley and in large cities.
But rice farmers are still asking for more support to help them increase their production and more easily reach markets. Farmers are asking the government to make equipment and inputs more readily available, and provide better access to financing.
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.