There is a sense of pride sweeping through the Boyard Valley in southwestern Senegal. The feeling has grown along with increases in local rice production. In five villages that used to grow little rice, farmers are now close to achieving self-sufficiency.
Local farmer Maï Niakh is proud of this achievement. She declares, “We eat local rice for 12 months of the year.”
Not long ago, many farmers in Boyard Valley had abandoned rice farming. Their soil was poor and rising salinity made it difficult to produce a good crop.
An initiative called the Project to Support Local Small-Scale Irrigation has worked with farmers to manage their salt problem. The farmers have also learned new farming techniques. With new knowledge and support, the farmers have increased their yields. Some who had previously given up on rice farming returned to their fields.
Ibrahima Faye is head of an inter-village committee formed as part of the initiative. She remembers what conditions were like in 2004, before the initiative began. At that time, farmers were harvesting less than 500 kilograms of rice per hectare. Since then, yields have increased every year. By 2008, farmers were producing four tonnes per hectare. The amount of land planted with rice has also increased.
More than 400 farmers are members of the committee. Each pays 5,000 CFA francs per year (about 10 US dollars). In return, they receive seeds and chemical fertilizer. They also benefit from larger projects such as a dam that prevents the infiltration of salt water.
New farming practices help the farmers make the most of their time and resources. For example, they have learned to plant rice seedlings in orderly rows, rather than randomly. They have also learned how to build dikes to retain water for their fields.
Ms. Faye notes that the farmers still face challenges. Some are unable to meet their family’s rice needs. Last year, inadequate rainfall led to a very poor harvest. Rice yields were lower than before the initiative started.
But this year’s crop looks good. Local self-sufficiency in rice has nearly been achieved. New land rehabilitation efforts will allow farmers to grow rice on even more hectares. And the initiative plans to purchase a tractor for communal use in 2013.
Many farmers in the Boyard Valley see a bright future. Farmer Mame Mor Ndiaye says hopefully, “When we get a tractor, we’ll produce not just enough rice to eat, but also a surplus to sell.”