“Due to the impact of climate change we grow much less rice than before”.
In Casamance, a rural and remote area of Senegal, a project is helping the next generation of small scale farmers adapt to climate change and set up successful enterprises.
Short rainy seasons coupled with torrential rains and changing soil qualities are now massively affecting the yield of rice, which has been the staple diet in Senegal. The Ampa Awagna project, designed in partnership with YMCA Senegal, is training young people with new agricultural knowledge and business skills to address youth unemployment and help them become successful small-scale farmers.
Elie, (above) is one of a group of young people who recently attended the agricultural training camp near Sedhiou, one of the areas where the project is operating. Elie says: “In my village we use to grow rice, but the rainy season is now much shorter. To change the culture of what we grow is difficult; people want to continue with what they have been doing for generations. But, we the new generation are determined to make a change. We know we have to adapt.”
Poverty in Senegal is high with chronic malnutrition affecting around 17% of children under five years, according to the UN World Food Programme (WFP).
The project teaches how to grow short turnaround crops such as okra and lettuce, which can both be harvested in 45 days, and how to maximise yields using improved planting and fertilisation techniques. It also trains young people in poultry and pig farming and how to transform excess crops into new products such as juice and jam, so that they can be sold year round.
Khady, from Zinguinchor, started her training in December 2018. She is single and has been responsible for her seven siblings and her grandmother since her parents died. “The biggest challenge I have is food….having enough for everyone to eat.”
Khady has now attended both the project’s two week agricultural training camp and the 50 day intensive camp. “The first time I sowed the okra and aubergines I got very little, but by the second time I got 7,000 CFA (£10) for my basin full of vegetables. I am happy because my work is producing something”.
Khady now knows how to make local juice from her crops and aims to get a fridge so she can make and sell hibiscus juice, baobab juice and green juice from the dittakh fruit.
“When I can do all that I’ll be able to save and ensure we can all live, even when the rains fail.”
Alphonse George Manga, Regional Executive YMCA Senegal (Zinguinchor), who works closely on the project, says that it is the young women who are the driving force; they are coming forwards desperate to seek new knowledge and set up new enterprises. “I think in the future there will be a role reversal. Women can now do and be whatever they want, if they are just given a chance and a little bit of help.”
After the young farmers have put their training into practice the project evaluates their activities and encourages them to put a business plan together. Enterprises with approved plans are then assisted to access various streams of funding. The project plans to also run a local advocacy campaign to help women access more land and encourage collectives to be set up.
“It’s about having enough, without needing support from anyone else.”
Cezi, another dynamic trainee, now has a business plan to set up her own poultry farm. “I had a passion to work with chickens for a long time but I had no opportunity to do it. So when the YMCA came and asked me what would I like to be trained in, I jumped at the chance to learn poultry. Now I want to start my own business. I love doing this – I know I will succeed!”
Youth unemployment in Casamance is very high; many of the young people now on the project previously had nothing to do all day and no hope for the future. Since it’s beginning in September 2017, 354 young people have learnt new agricultural techniques and by the end of 2022 it aims to train 800 young people. There is an enormous ripple effect with large families benefitting and young people sharing their new found knowledge and inviting others to work with them.
Nene, who lives in the village of Bousra, says since her training she has noticed a lot of improvement in her business. “Last year I sold my vegetables for 100,000 CFA [£154], but in one month so far this year I have sold 125,000 CFA [£192] and my crops are still growing.”
She has now invited four other women to join her on a piece of land that use to belong to her mother. “It’s a huge piece of land and I can’t work on it alone, so I’ve invited these friends so I can share my new knowledge and we can work together. We have already started to grow hibiscus, chilli, tomato, okra and lettuce.”
Nene (right) with two of the women helping in her new collective, Awa (left) and Assi (centre)
Safietou, a mother of five, has been so inspired by the project that all she wants to do now is farming. “I love doing this because it’s the future of the world now. I feel proud of myself because I’m doing all this on my own – and what this means is that I can send my kids to school.”