Nelly Bassily | May 5, 2008
The global rise in food prices has hit some African countries especially hard – countries such as Senegal, where price hikes have coincided with a crisis in the agricultural sector.
This year’s cereal production fell short of expectations. For example, Senegalese farmers were expected to produce 215,000 tons of rice, the country’s staple crop. But the yield was only 195,000 tons. The total cereal crop harvest was 13 per cent lower than expected. Cereals were imported to cover the production deficit and meet the country’s food needs. Six hundred thousand tons of rice alone were needed.
It was in this context that Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade announced an ambitious plan to revive the agriculture sector. The Grande Offensive Agricole pour la Nourriture et l’abondance, or GOANA, aims to boost agricultural production, so that Senegal will produce enough food to meet its own needs. Its stated objectives are to increase annual rice production to 500,000 tons, up maize production to two million tons, and achieve two million tons of production in other cereals.The estimated cost of the food security plan is 390 billion FCFA (approximately 920 million American dollars or 590 million Euros.)
But farmers say they were never consulted on the GOANA plan, and question its chance of success. Cheikhou Seck is Senegal’s leading maize producer and President of the commodity group, Comité interprofessionnel pour les céréales locales. He says that, to achieve the results the government is looking for, farmers would have to obtain the fertilizer and seeds they need by the end of May. But famers – including Mr. Seck – cannot afford these inputs. He explains that most farmers are already in debt following last year’s poor growing season. Mr. Seck suggested that the plan to increase food production would have worked better if it started in January.
Samba Ka is President of the Cadre de concertation des ruraux, a farmers’ group in the Kaolack Region of central Senegal. He stresses that farmers’ biggest concern at the moment is making it through the dry season with limited food reserves. Mr. Ka adds that farmers certainly won’t have enough seeds remaining to increase their production.
Beyond the basic inputs of seed and fertilizer, farmers say they require heavy equipment such as tractors that are out for reach to small-scale producers.
Finally, farmers wonder if there will be a market for their crops, even if they can increase their production. When President Wade announced the plan to increase local cereal production, he also announced a deal to import 600,000 tons of rice from India each year, for the next six years. This leaves little room in the market for locally-produced grains.
The Senegalese government maintains that there is no contradiction between its plan to promote food self-sufficiency by increasing local production and its plan to import rice from India.