Dakar — The residents of five villages in the Boyard Valley, in southwestern Senegal, are freeing themselves from "the tyranny of imported rice" by stepping up local production of this important staple food.
"Agricultural production has been intensified here for several years now, thanks to the revival of rice farming," Marie Sagne told IPS proudly.
Farmers in Sagne's home village, Boyard Ndiodiome, had stopped growing rice altogether, as soil fertility was compromised by rising salinity. They were able to begin planting rice again thanks to work carried out by the Project to Support Local Small-Scale Irrigation (PAPIL), financed by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Islamic Development Bank (IDB).
PAPIL built an anti-salt dam in the village, restoring the productivity of many of the fields which had fallen into disuse. Since 2006, PAPIL has also been providing local farmers with quality seeds, fertiliser and technical training, in collaboration with its partners, the National Agency for Rural and Agricultural Advice (ANCAR) and the Regional Office for Rural Development (DRDR) in Fatick, the regional capital.
Working together, these agencies have thoroughly modernised farming techniques in the valley. For example, the random planting of rice seedlings has been abandoned in favour of planting them in orderly rows. Farmers have also learned how to construct dikes to retain water for their fields.
"Producers have taken the new techniques on board and we are supporting them," explained Jean-Paul Bampouky, head of DRDR in Fatick.
PAPIL also established the Mbin Jam Inter-village Committee for the Management of the Boyard Valley - Mbin Jam means "the home of well-being" in Sereer, a local language. This committee, led by Ibrahima Faye, includes 420 rice farmers from across the five villages - Boyard Ndiodiome, Boyard Tock, Sing Boyard, Ndiagamba and Dack. Eighty percent of its members are women.
Each member of Mbin Jam contributes 5,000 CFA francs per year (equivalent to ten dollars), which entitles them to seed and fertiliser for their fields. The total area planted with rice in the valley rose swiftly, from 10 hectares in 2006 to around 25 hectares in 2007.
"In 2004, we were harvesting a bit less than 500 kilos of rice from each hectare planted with rice. Thanks to the technical training from our partners, we were at 3.5 tonnes per hectare by 2006, and four tonnes per hectare in 2008," Faye told IPS.
"For several years now, some households here have not had to eat rice imported from overseas or grown elsewhere in Senegal as the local harvest meets all their needs."
Mbin Jam member Maï Niakh is proud of this achievement. "We eat local rice for 12 months of the year," she said.
But Faye said not all of the group's members have been quite so successful. "Other farmers were unable to grow enough to meet their household needs, though when we managed to get rid of wild rice (a perennial relative which competes with the rice planted by farmers), we boosted productivity enormously."
And, he added, in 2011 a lack of water prevented the crop from ripening properly, and the 23 hectares planted by Mbin Jam's members produced only around 250 kilos per hectare.
The 140 tonne crop from the previous year, harvested from 35 hectares, is a more typical yield. But as the rice reached maturity in mid-October, Faye feared the average yield in 2012 would be affected by the group's renewed struggles to control wild rice and insect pests.
Mamadou Camara, head of PAPIL's regional office in Fatick, was more confident. "Our forecast for 2012 is (a yield of) between four and six tonnes per hectare in the Boyard Ndiodiome valley," he said.
"(Local) self-sufficiency in rice has nearly been achieved," Camara added. "Our major rehabilitation projects for 2013 will consolidate this by permitting the planting of up to 200 additional hectares."
Mbin Jam is eagerly awaiting the building of ten kilometres of rural roads in the valley, the construction of a warehouse for storage and processing, and the purchase of a tractor by PAPIL in 2013.
In light of strong results, AfDB, which funded PAPIL from 2006-2010, decided to extend its support for the programme through 2013, said Camara. The Islamic Development Bank will continue to finance the project until 2015.
"What we're still lacking is agricultural equipment," said Dack farmer Mame Mor Ndiaye. "When we get a tractor, we'll produce not just enough rice to eat, but also a surplus to sell."