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Thousands of Senegalese Producers Living off Market Gardening

DAKAR, Sep 4 2012 (IPS) - Thousands of farmers are earning a living growing fruit and vegetables in the Niayes, a strip of fertile land running north along Senegal’s western coastline from the outskirts of the capital, Dakar. But land speculation threatens the future of this market gardening.

“This year, we shipped 100 tonnes of mangos to both domestic and overseas markets,” said Ibrahima Mbengue, president of Federation of Vegetable Growers in the Niayes (FPMN), keeping a watchful eye on young workers who are weighing dozens of baskets of mangoes.

The FPMN was established in 1994, and Mbengue says the federation now has 2,250 members who last year farmed a total of 6,000 hectares in the area, a string of lakes and seasonal wetlands – the “niayes” from which the region takes its name.

“The growers in the Niayes are making lots of money, billions (of CFA),” said Abdoulaye Barry, a Dakar-based journalist specialising in agriculture. “There are many foreigners, especially from Guinea, working in the fields there. People have built permanent houses with their income from vegetables.”

The region’s output has more than tripled in recent years, rising from 78,000 tonnes in 2009 to 261,000 tonnes in 2011, according to figures from the National Statistical Demographic Institute (ANSD) published in the state-owned newspaper “Le Soleil” in August.

The increase is one consequence of expanding the area under cultivation, which jumped 70 percent from around 5,000 hectares in 2009 to 8,700 ha in 2011, ANSD reported. The institute estimated the total income for vegetable growers at 430 million dollars. The 750,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables produced here in 2011 accounted for more than 40 percent of the country’s total.

Onions, tomatoes and cabbage were the most important crops, together accounting for two-thirds of the volume of produce.

Despite this strong growth, Mbengue complained of a lack of technical support from the government. Year on year, he said, production increases but the farmers are not able to compete in the international market for fruit and vegetables.

“Market garden output greatly exceeds domestic demand, and the produce is perishable. Some producers sometimes sell at a loss, since they haven’t cracked the international market,” he told IPS.

Barry agreed. “Senegalese market gardeners are not in a position to compete in the international market. The value chains are not well-organised. The level of organisation of transport, packaging and marketing of produce is weak.”

“There’s often an oversupply in the domestic market, which hurts the price,” said Sidy Guèye, FPMN’s coordinator in the rural district of Sangalkam, home to many vegetable growers.

Onions, for example, are sometimes sold at knock-down prices, for 20 or 35 cents a kilo, while at other times the price can climb to as much as 80 cents a kilo on the local market, said Madiagne Dièye, a Dakar trader.

Producers harvest three or four crops each year, mostly working on family plots of up to five hectares in size, while some producers’ associations have operations covering several hundred hectares, according to Guèye.

“People are doing well here, financially. In other parts of the country, people are living precariously,” he told IPS, referring to the value of vegetable growing in Sangalkam.

“In the Niayes, 90-95 percent of growers inherited their land. Others acquired theirs thanks to the goodwill of the relevant land management authorities,” Guèye said.

Market gardening is so important to the Senegalese economy that the government has integrated it into its wider accelerated growth strategy for agriculture and agro-industries, a multi-year plan being implemented by the government and the private sector.

But lying so close to the Senegalese capital, the Niayes region has been the object of intense land speculation. “The big men are buying land from producers, without using it,” said Woré Gana Seck, from the NGO Green Senegal, which works on agriculture. Advocacy against this form of land-grabbing must be maintained, she told IPS.

Barry thinks that the government should reserve the Niayes exclusively for market gardeners, and designate other space in areas less suited to vegetable cultivation for residential development.

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