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SENEGAL: Farmers Anxious About Aid

SEDHIOU, Senegal, Dec 2 2009 (IPS) - As part of a project to support community initiatives and fight poverty in South Senegal, the Sédhiou Local Development Fund received a donation of agricultural equipment worth more than half a million dollars in a bid to reverse the region’s dramatic drop in agricultural production in recent years.

Thirteen tillers, three tractors, 16 mills and three machines for hulling rice were delivered by the Italian ministry of foreign affairs in late October.

Bafodé Dramé, coordinator of Sédhiou’s regional fund, told IPS the project’s overall objective was to improve living conditions in this part of the Casamance region in southern Senegal, by supporting investments to create jobs and improve basic services and income.

“This batch of equipment will be used to boost rice production. The arable area will be larger. The donation was due to the state’s ‘Big Push’ for agricultural and food abundance, because we are in an area where there is enough arable land, and every year we receive plenty of rain,” he said.

Robert Bassène is a 53-year-old Sédhiou farmer. In his field IPS found that the rice heads has begun to develop. According to Bassène, this is the most critical moment of production, because the field has to be watched constantly to prevent birds eating the grains.

Bassène bemoans the lack of technical assistance and monitoring from the national agriculture department’s agricultural extension officers.

“We suffer, you know. Look at my field – because of the lack of technical assistance from the government authorities, my production won’t be as high as I expected,” he claimed. Last year he produced only 35 bags of rice weighing 50 kilos each.

“This donation is a good thing, but the problem is: how are we going to share it among ourselves? When the aid workers leave, the authorities are going to politicise these machines. And if you are not part of the Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS, the party in power), you won’t get anything,” Bassène said.

But this was denied by Samba Sène, of the PDS office in Sédhiou. “They always say that. But we are all Senegalese. The PDS doesn’t take a thing. This equipment is for the farmers, not for the PDS; therefore every farmer or farming group may benefit from it,” he said.

According to Bassène, the biggest obstacle to development in the region is the war. “First you have the sound of the guns. When they hear that, entire families abandon their fields and cross the border to escape into Guinea-Bissau, which is not far from here. Then you have the landmines. When we plough we find mines. A lot of us have lost a foot because of that,” he tells IPS.

One such is Mamadou Diatta, a farmer aged about 40. He was ploughing his field in January when he stepped on a mine. His foot had to be amputated. “I’m like this because of a mine. I’m very happy about this donation by the Italians, but I’m also suspicious of how the equipment will be distributed.

“You know, here in Casamance there are people who are treated as separatists: you can be sure that those people won’t get a thing, even though we are all Senegalese,” he complains.

IPS also found fears of being left out at an agricultural cooperative run by women. According to Awa Kane, president of an association named ‘Jakko’ (which means ‘union’ in Balante, one of Casamance’s dialects), women are often marginalised in Sédhiou.

“We are marginalised here. It is not the first time we receive this type of aid, but when women ask for help, we are not given anything, even though we are more active than men in the agricultural domain,” she said.

“I really hope that this time the men will remember to give us something. It’s important if we want to be self-sufficient with food in this region, and even in the whole of Senegal.”

Accompanied by three other women, Kane led us to a large field, more than a hectare, owned by their cooperative. They produce mostly rice – two tonnes last year – but also grow beans, mangoes and groundnuts as well. Kane said production relies entirely on the climate.

“We didn’t have technical monitoring, and it is not easy as we have all kinds of threats, especially those related to the war. I wish the Senegalese authorities would negotiate with separatists in order to end the war in this region,” she said.

“This war is a lot of trouble, especially for us women. Our children are dying. When you want to develop a country, you first need peace. You see, because of the war, nobody goes to the field anymore. The plants grow without care – this is serious.”

Cheikh Kane Niane, regional governor, assured IPS that distribution of the equipment would be fair.

“I understand the concerns of all regarding distribution of the equipment. This time we, the local authorities, will make sure everybody gets access to it, because this donation aims to support the farmers’ efforts in line with the government policy of ensuring food security,” he said to IPS.

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