In countries with both established and emerging economies, eating local food is gaining recognition as not just a fashionable foodie trend, but a foundation for economic growth and self-sufficiency.
This is the basis for Feed the Future Senegal Naatal Mbay, an ongoing, USAID-funded effort to expand agricultural markets, satisfy consumer demand, and increase the income of farmers, including women.
Naatal Mbay, which means “flourishing agriculture,” began in 2015 when the national government set a goal of increasing domestic production of staple cereal crops. Despite the production of local rice by thousands of farmers, Senegal was still importing most of the rice consumed by its citizens. Maize and millet farms also were not reaching their potential. With the help of Naatal Mbay, more than 125,000 Senegalese farmers have already made progress in the production of these crops, and have begun to reduce the country’s reliance on imported rice.
Targeting More than 130,000 Smallholder Farmers and Promoting Gender Equity
Naatal Mbay was launched in 2015 as an expansion of an earlier USAID program that worked with smallholder farmers. The program is part of Feed the Future, America's initiative to combat global hunger and poverty.
Naatal Mbay operates in three of Senegal’s agricultural regions—in the country’s northern, central, and southern zones. In the northern areas, along the Senegal River, farmers specialize in growing irrigated rice. In the central zone farmers grow maize and millet. In the southern zone they grow lowland and upland rice, along with maize and millet.
Working with more than 130,000 smallholder farmers growing four types of crops in distinct geographic areas requires flexibility, while a focus on sustainability requires a commitment to work through local actors. Each of the regions faces its own issues. For example, in Casamance, political instability kept farmers from thriving for many years. And for all the rain-dependent crops, farmers lacked crop insurance that could help them survive when the weather failed to cooperate.
Because women have historically led the production of rain-fed rice, our focus on staple cereal crops helps build gender equity while increasing overall economic growth.
Using Data-Driven Tools to Reduce the Risks and Expand the Potential of Farming
Working through local organizations, we facilitated a series of interventions that target every aspect of the agri-food system. A common thread in our interventions is the use of data and technology, which helps farmers work more efficiently and make more informed business decisions.
These tools are now in our heads. We are not going to leave them behind when the project leaves.
For example, we introduced GPS-enabled devices so that farmers can measure their fields accurately. With accurate measurements, they can order the proper amounts of seed and fertilizer. This certainty, in turn, makes banks more willing to grant loans to farmers’ associations. We also taught farmers to track planting methods, timing, spacing, and rainfall. With better data on their own methods, farmers can compare results from one season to the next and plan strategically to maximize crop yields and earn more income.
“These tools are now in our heads,” said one of the database managers employed by our NGO partner Symbiose. “We are not going to leave them behind when the project leaves.”
Well-informed Senegalese farmers are now empowered to take advantage of banking and insurance services that their counterparts in more developed countries have relied on for generations. Again, technology plays an important role. With the automated rain gauges we installed in farming areas, insurers can quickly and accurately determine farmers’ losses and set crop insurance payments.
We also collected data to further our goal of women’s empowerment. We conducted a survey in 2016 on the roles of women in agriculture and the extent to which they are empowered in those roles. This helped us promote women’s involvement in all aspects of the cereal value chain and adjust technologies and management practices to their circumstances.
From the basics of planning and planting to support for farmers looking to recover from losses and expand their businesses, Naatal Mbay relies on data-driven, evidence-based development strategies.
Preparing Farmers for Stability, Prosperity, and Future Growth
Naatal Mbay helps further the mission of the Feed the Future initiative: to build a world free from hunger, malnutrition, and extreme poverty. Every time we facilitate the use of a new technology, promote the development and sale of crop insurance, or bring farmers together to build their capacity, we move closer to this goal. Some of Naatal Mbay’s key contributions include
- A 15 percent reduction in rice imports by Senegal in 2016
- Increased use of state-of-the art farm equipment, such as tractors and harvesters, enabling more efficient harvests
- Nearly 35,000 farmers subscribed to agricultural insurance in 2018
- A threefold increase in crop yields among women growing upland rice in the formerly conflict-ridden Casamance region.
These and other advancements are helping Senegal’s farmers and agribusinesses prosper. More importantly for the long term, they are also learning from one another, making it more likely that the benefits of smarter farming, better nutrition, and economic growth will be carried on to future generations.