Dakar — Darou Ndoye is the sort of village young people cannot wait to leave in search of better prospects in the city or across the seas in Europe. But 40 youth working on 10 hectares of a 20-heactre farm here in western Senegal show how a little support goes a long way in creating rewarding work in rural Senegal.
The farm, which was rehabilitated in 2008 as part of the government's Return to Agriculture programme (REVA), boasts a borehole with a diesel pump that feeds a sprinkler network covering 10 hectares; a mini pivot system extends irrigation to a further five hectares.
The Return to Agriculture programme was established in 2006, with the aim of fighting food insecurity and unemployment by promoting private enterprise in agriculture.
Reducing out-migration from rural to urban areas within Senegal, as well as clandestine emigration to Europe was an explicit part of the plan, which has received substantial funding from the Spanish and Moroccan governments as well as from Senegal's own budget.
The young farmers are divided into two Economic Interest Groups - a form of collective - each producing different vegetables.
"We grow cabbages, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers and carrots," said Mbaye Ndiaye, 34, president of the two groups. He said the farm's produce is sold in local markets as well as in neighbouring countries like Mali and Gambia.
The 40 people working on the farm are successfully using crop rotation techniques and cultivation in the off-season. Ndiaye says that in 2011 the farm produced 80 tonnes of peppers, 150 tonnes of tomatoes, 200 tonnes of cabbage, 250 tonnes of potatoes and 155 tonnes of carrots.
"We took in about 28 million CFA francs (around 55,000 dollars) in net profits, leaving each member with around 700,000 CFA (1,400 dollars) in earnings last year," he told IPS.
According to Ndiaye, the 2009-2010 season was also a good one, though not all of the farm was in production. "We used about eight hectares, but 2010 marked the real starting point for sales of our output after the rehabilitation of the farm... We sold 20 tonnes of cabbage, 145 tonnes of carrots and 257 tonnes of tomatoes."
"There weren't so many of us then - we were just 25 - and we earned around 20 million CFA (roughly 40,000 dollars), with each person earning about 400,000 CFA (800 dollars). A good part of our total revenue was spent on repairing the pump and buying seed," he said.
Adja Aïda Cissé, a councillor for the area as well as president of a local union for the promotion of rural women, stressed the socioeconomic impacts of the Darou Ndoye farm.
"We're feeding ourselves; we're supporting ourselves; we're sending the kids to school now, thanks to the income from the farm. There is no better way to fight poverty," Cissé said.
"This village was one of the major points of origin for clandestine migration across the sea to Europe," she added. "Many youth who would have been considering that are instead employed on the farm."
Even if the success of the farm is widely recognised, there are also some challenges.
Papa Guèye, who himself tried unsuccessfully to make it to Spain on a small fishing boat, has worked on the farm since the beginning of the project. He complains about the cost of fertiliser. "We need 300 bags of organic manure for each hectare; this costs 1,500 CFA (three dollars) if it's chicken manure, and 700 CFA (1.40 dollars) if it's cow dung," he told IPS.
Another of the farmers, Saliou Mbaye, said that though he earns nearly 1,000 dollars each growing season, he lacks proper implements for hoeing. He also complained about the high cost of diesel to fuel the pump.
"Diesel is expensive. Every four days, we spend 160,000 CFA (around 320 dollars) for 200 litres of diesel," he said.
"We need tractors and access to more water to expand the size of the farm and increase sales. Our produce is in great demand across the border in Mali, Mauritania and Gambia," he told IPS.
The head of the Return to Agriculture programme, El Hadji Malick Sarr, says that in its five years of existence, the programme has helped set up teams of young Senegalese on 23 farms who are now producing large quantities of fruits and vegetables, 80 percent of it for export.
A total of 1,700 hectares have been equipped with irrigation systems and 7,000 jobs have been created, he told IPS. "From a hectare of vegetables... in a year, a young producer can earn an income of 1.7 million CFA. But the availability of land is such that we can only give each youth (access to) less than half a hectare."
During a visit to Senegal in November 2011, Mohamed Béavogui, director of the West and Central Africa Division of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), toured some of REVA's farms, including the one at Darou Ndoye.
"What we have seen here is a very innovative approach," he said. "It allows young farmers to not only ensure their own food security, but also to produce for sale and export, generating incomes which allow them to improve their living conditions."
He said he hoped to find synergies between these farms and other agriculture projects supported by IFAD.
Copyright © 2012 Inter Press Service. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.
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