In the village of Saal, located on the banks of the Gambia River in the Tambacounda region of Senegal, banana farmer Veronique wakes up at dawn each morning to make her way to the plantation. Around noon, she returns home to cook lunch for her family and then heads back to work until it’s time again to prepare dinner, clean the house, and spend time with her husband. A new irrigation system would lessen her back-breaking load on the plantation, and, most importantly, would give her more time to take care of her family and start a vegetable garden to provide nutritious food for them.
Agriculture is one of the primary sectors in the Senegalese economy, contributing about 15 percent of GDP, and it is the backbone of rural job creation, with nearly half of the population employed in the sector. Tambacounda struggles with very high levels of poverty and hunger, and most farmers are smallholder family farmers – many of them women.
Over the years, the region’s productivity has been increasingly affected by social, economic, and environmental challenges such as the increased costs of inputs, irregular and unpredictable rainfall, and inadequate land policies. This means that for thousands of smallholder family farmers, their livelihoods are at stake. To help cope with these challenges, farmers organized themselves into two major producer organizations: The Association des Producteurs de la Vallée du Fleuve Gambie (APROVAG), which consists of nine local farmer groups (Economic Interest Groups) and has over 1,000 members; and the Yakaar Niani Wulli Federation (YNW), which brings together 3,000 farmers under 12 village unions.
With support from the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), smallholder family farmers like Veronique will have the resources they need to improve their livelihoods. This includes access to funds, capacity building, technology, and public-private partnerships. Launched in October 2018, the three-year project, Strengthening Rural Women’s Livelihood for a Sustainable Economic Development in the Eastern Region of Senegal, will empower members of APROVAG and YNW, particularly women and youth, to sustainably grow agricultural productivity and form linkages to markets.
This unique partnership—among GAFSP, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), local and national government agencies, these producer organizations and other civil society actors, and the private sector—is designed to increase combined impact of all partners. The project is part of the GAFSP’s Missing Middle Initiative (MMI), which is piloting ways to more directly support smallholder family farmers, their organizations, and partnerships between private sector actors in agriculture value chains.
During the project, the producer organizations will work together with local partners such as ActionAid Senegal, which has been working with APROVAG since 2007; Energy4impact, a new actor in Senegal which facilitates the emergence of rural micro-enterprises within APROVAG’s Economic Interest Groups; and Enda Pronat, which has worked with YNW for over two decades. By carrying out activities like training workshops, farmers will be educated on sustainable farming practices, including irrigation management and soil improvement, so they can generate maximum yields. Partners will also work with the producer organizations to empower women socially, politically, and economically, help them overcome barriers like access to and ownership of land, provide technical assistance, and help establish relationships with other value chain actors and markets.
Today, APROVAG processes only between 6-10 percent of the bananas that they harvest. In three years they hope to raise the capacity of banana production by 1,000-2,000 tons per year and process at least 80 percent of their bananas. Such results will be life-changing for farmers like Veronique, who may benefit from higher yields, higher incomes, and better opportunities for themselves and their families.
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