Senegal: COVID-19 Creates a Unique Opportunity for an Inclusive and Sustainable Food Policy

Like other West African countries, Senegal has taken draconian measures to limit mobility to slow down the spread of the Coronavirus. The government has also implemented economic and social measures to mitigate the pandemic's effects on the most vulnerable sections of the population.

The pandemic is a multifaceted crisis, no doubt. But it could also represent an opportunity for food sovereignty if appropriate actions are taken. Nowadays, the food question is not only a challenge for the government but also for professional agricultural organizations, the private sector and citizens alike. Its resolution requires a repositioning of our agriculture, prioritizing the internal market. How has Senegal's agricultural policy responded so far to a continually varying food demand? What changes are needed to meet current and future challenges? In this article, we want to explore these questions.

Agricultural investment

In February 2020 the African Union Commission on the implementation of the Malabo Declaration released its second biennial review. It contains a severe warning to African governments. In 2014, African heads of state had made seven commitments for the acceleration of agricultural growth. Among those were:

– strengthening the financing of investments in agriculture,

– the eradication of hunger in Africa by 2025,

– a 50% reduction of poverty by 2025 through inclusive agricultural growth and transformation,

– boosting intra-African trade in agricultural commodities,

– and strengthening the resilience of livelihoods and production systems to climate change/other risks.

According to the second review, Senegal has made progress in some areas. However, it is not on track to reach the Malabo commitments by 2025. Only Rwanda, Morocco, Mali and Ghana showed satisfactory mid-term results.

Specifically, Senegal does not meet the indicators of agricultural investments. In particular, the use of fertilizers in the country is far from the required 50 kg/ha of nutrients. Funding levels for research and agricultural extension are also unsatisfactory. When it comes to eradicating hunger, Senegal performs poorly on the prevalence of anaemia and stunting. Cutting down poverty by half seems out of reach, while efforts to invest in climate change resilience are still timid, at best. Boosting intra-African trade in agricultural commodities is one of the few things that is working.

Inclusive and sustainable food policy

The pandemic has highlighted the country's vulnerability, in particular its food dependence. Setting goals for food self-sufficiency is vital. The success of such an enterprise requires a clear vision. It should be underpinned by a consensual, inclusive and sustainable food policy. Main features of such a policy could be:

Prioritization of food value chains: Based on rigorous analysis, the government should choose and invest heavily in food value chains. The gluten-free grain millet is an example of a product mobilizing large production areas, as well as a large population group. With adequate investments, the latter has enormous potential for the urban and rural market. By improving its productivity and developing the processing and distribution links, millet could contribute to the diversification of the food consumption by local urban populations. Linking millet products with the dairy industry, as practised by certain agro-processors, constitutes another opportunity for developing the millet value chain, while also responding to consumer needs. The same recommendations can be made for fruits and vegetables. Processing them to avoid rotting would minimize post-harvest losses. A criterion for choosing these food chains must be the integration of small producers and small/medium-sized post-production enterprises (e.g. those of conservation, packaging, processing, services, etc.).

The funding of research of these value chains. The government must reinforce the financing of strategic analysis. The result would be appropriate technologies for the various links of the value chain (production, processing, logistics, etc.).

Training of family farmers, agricultural entrepreneurs, technicians, and engineers. Training should be at the heart of the food value chain development strategy. It should have a pyramidal shape, with mass training intended for family farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs. Well-trained agricultural technicians, supported by engineers, are also crucial.

Multisector governance. Real food policy cannot be the prerogative of only the Ministry of Agriculture. It needs to integrate the livestock and fishing sectors. Health and nutrition must be at the centre of the policy's aim. Therefore, food policy should be steered by multisectoral governance. There should be an authority in charge of coordinating all of the related entities. Success and sustainability of the system strongly depend on it.

Expected effect and impact

The implementation of a vigorous food policy centred on our agroecological, socioeconomic and cultural potentials should generate tangible results in several areas:

  • Increased industrial development based on the processing component of agri-food value chains. By improving local processing, micro/small/medium-sized enterprises could develop semi-finished products that would serve as inputs for bigger industries. It reduces logistic problems for big companies and allows small ones to gain added value. The result is an ecosystem of nested enterprises from small/medium to big ones.
  • Improved health and nutrition. The increased production of vegetables, fruit and cereals and the development of short supply chains will promote a healthier diet for the populations. This option could reduce the prevalence of non-communicable diseases, the proliferation of which is partly due to eating habits.
  • Decent and abundant jobs for young people and women. The processing of agri-food chains can be the source of many jobs for young people and women. Both groups constitute the majority of the population in rural areas. The positioning of women in the processing link is widely documented. It is vital to strengthen this population segment while allowing them to increase their margins.

As much as food policy requires multisectoral governance, it also challenges the world of research. The intervention of economists, socio-anthropologists, historians, nutritionists, etc. is crucial if we are to succeed in this radical and much-needed shift. It is essential to change the way we are doing things. We need to sow the seeds of food sovereignty that farmers' organizations have been calling for for a long time.

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