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Good farming practices help turn the tide on youth migration

Dossier: Stemming youth migration

Provided with access to agricultural inputs and training, and then to markets, Senegalese farmers gain better incomes, thus choose to help develop their village instead of migrating

© Matteo Maillard

Senegal

A cereal production and marketing programme is substantially boosting smallholders’ incomes, making the agricultural sector much more attractive to young people. As a consequence, youth migration has decreased.

In Senegal, young people from rural areas are seizing opportunities in diversified profitable value chains, which is helping to strengthen food security and combat childhood malnutrition, whilst mitigating youth migration. Launched in 2011, the flagship Agricultural Value Chains Support Project (PAFA) of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) aims to sustainably improve the livelihoods of farming families based in the central groundnut basin of Senegal. Farmers benefit from support for the production and marketing of local cereal crops, such as millet, sorghum and cowpea.

“We aim to ensure that farmers will earn a decent income so that they can support the development of their villages rather than emigrating to cities or abroad – to the detriment of rural areas,” says Benoit Thierry, head of the IFAD Western Africa Hub. “We help create jobs by providing farmers with access to agricultural equipment, certified seeds, fertiliser and then to markets, thus enabling them to sell their quality produce and gain a decent income.”

Provided with access to agricultural inputs and training, and then to markets, Senegalese farmers gain better incomes, thus choose to help develop their village instead of migrating

Provided with access to agricultural inputs and training, and then to markets, Senegalese farmers gain better incomes, thus choose to help develop their village instead of migrating

© Matteo Maillard

Higher yields for better incomes

Based on the resounding success of the first phase of the project, which culminated in 2014, PAFA has been extended to 2022. The project’s five value chains (millet, cowpea, roselle, sesame and maize) have generated striking results; over 37,700 farmers have been able to significantly ratchet up their cereal production from 3,131 t in 2011 to 33,687 t in 2016, which is sufficient to cover the food needs of around 158,250 people. Based on the high quality of the millet produced, a contract was signed with the food giant Nestlé for the export of 3,000 t of the cereal to Côte d’Ivoire between 2014 and 2019 to be processed into Cerelac instant cereals for infants.

PAFA’s key objective is to help Senegalese farmers achieve food self-sufficiency in relatively infertile regions and make agriculture a sustainable option. To help achieve this, the initiative draws on the drive and vitality of local farmers’ organisations by training their members in good agricultural practices and providing organisational capacity building. This helps members to generate higher incomes and makes the agriculture sector more attractive to the youth, who otherwise seek job opportunities in cities or migrate overseas.

In the town of Niahrar, in the heartland of the Senegalese groundnut basin 144 km from Dakar, a local association perfectly exemplifies this knowledge transfer strategy. Created in 1989, the Jamm Bugum (meaning ‘I want peace’) sports and cultural association was initially a football team consisting of youths before becoming an agricultural organisation. “In 1998, we thought we needed to be more useful to society,” says its president Mame Biram Sène. “We decided to invest in the development of our community. Our first initiative was to replant trees in public places in order to provide shade.”

In 2012, PAFA gave them practical training on equipment options, which inputs and seeds to use to enhance cereal production performance, how to organise a profitable market with the surplus production, and how to make nutritious dishes with cereals and juice drinks from fruits. Thirty-year old Ndèye Ndong was one of the beneficiaries, “I didn't use to apply fertiliser in my field,” she says. “Here the soils are very poor and crop yields are variable. The training taught me how to organise fertiliser spreading, and when to pour on urea to get bushier plants and stronger cereal heads.” She now manages to produce 1.5 t/ha of millet on her 2 ha field, compared to 500 kg before the initiative was launched, and can readily feed her family during the lean months. She also produces surplus from her field that she sells at the market, and has saved time spent on the field through the application of more efficient practices. “This gives me time for other activities such as small-scale trading and managing my children's healthcare.”

“Convinced to stay and farm the family land”

Téning Ngom, 22, was also fully aware of the benefits of freeing up time spent on the farm for other income-generating activities. After the rainy season, using the money earned, she began selling prepared breakfasts to students and workers passing by her house every morning. “I was also able to buy a television, radio and fridge in which I chill the juices I sell,” she says. She has also been participating in a revolving credit group over the last 4 years to boost her income. This village savings and credit system includes 25 members who each put money into a common fund which, in turn, is used to finance members’ purchases. The interest generated is then shared among the other members. “This system enabled me to buy 10 sheep and 10 goats,” says Ngom. “I hope this will eventually help me turn my breakfast business into a real restaurant. I want to stop working in the field to replace my pitchfork with a dinner fork!”

Half of the 1,005 members of the Jamm Bugum association are men. As is often the case in poor villages, it is generally the men who go to cities or abroad to find a more profitable activity than unfertile lands in Senegal have to offer. Outmigration candidates abound, including 23-year old farmer Sheikh Diouf, who says: “I had planned to go to Spain to find work before PAFA was launched in 2012. Like my friends, I wanted to be able to send my family money back from Europe to tide them over during dry periods. This initiative managed to convince me to stay and farm the family land – and now we live well.”

Some young students have even decided to return to Niarhar after graduating with the aim of convincing other young people to stay. Twenty-eight year old Pierre Diouf is a Master’s student in biology in Dakar. He was able to continue his studies with the earnings generated by the project. “Once I graduate, I’ll go back to the village to help other young people,” he says. “I’ll prove to those who want to emigrate that they can earn more from local agriculture than they could from a dangerous trip to Europe.”

Better off in the village

In the 1980-90s, most adult men left for Dakar as part of a seasonal migration trend during the dry season. Jacques Diou left Niarhar at the age of 18, but he only managed to become a poor dock worker in the capital. “In town, all we were offered was hand-to-mouth work, so I went back to the village.” Back home, his crop production increased by applying the good agricultural practices he had learnt from PAFA. The supplementary income enabled him to set up a market garden where he grows cassava, dates, lemons, mangoes, oranges and soursop to help his family get through the lean months. He has even set up a pigsty and a henhouse.

“Subsistence agriculture had long prevailed in Senegal,” explains Aliou Diouf, a young teacher in Niahrar and Jamm Bugum member. “PAFA has changed our mindset. We have gone from a threatening famine situation to food marketing. Farmers are now talking about yields and striving to develop their business.” The association will be opening a bakery in May, selling bread made from local cereals – this is a first, and emblematic of the incredible change that has taken place. This entrepreneurship has earned Jamm Bugum two IFAD ‘Golden Sheaf’ awards for its innovations in the agricultural sector. In 2016, Mame Mbaye Niang, Senegalese Minister in charge of Youth, Employment and Citizen Building, praised the association. “It is experiencing emergence,” he said, placing the association’s success within the context of President Macky Sall's Plan for an Emerging Senegal (PES).

In addition to Jamm Bugum, PAFA supports 44 other youth associations across the country. Their overall positive results enabled 82% of beneficiaries to overcome hunger during the lean season, with malnutrition among children under 5 years old decreasing from 30% to 22% between 2011 and 2016.

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A national plan to revamp agriculture

In 2014, Senegal launched a Priority Action Plan under the Programme to Accelerate the Pace of Senegalese Agriculture (PRACAS). This agricultural component of the government’s PES aims to promote the growth of this vital sector so that it can become a catalyst for the country’s economic transformation, in turn reducing the poverty that is forcing thousands of Senegalese young people to emigrate.

Agricultural production in Senegal is insufficient, thus placing the most vulnerable segments of the population (47% of Senegalese people are poor) in a food insecurity dilemma. The per capita gross national income is €932, with a life expectancy of 63 years. These indicators place Senegal 162nd out of 187 countries in the 2016 Human Development Index rankings of the United Nations Development Programme.

As a result of this underdevelopment, Senegal was ranked 10th by the European Parliament in terms of the number of illegal migrants entering Europe by sea in 2018. According to a paper published in the African Studies Review, from the 1980s onwards, economic liberalisation was a major reason for the deteriorating livelihoods of Senegalese people and a driving force behind outmigration. Youth migration from rural areas has led to de-structuring and weakening of the agricultural sector. PRACAS and PAFA are currently striving to redress this situation by modernising farms to enhance nutrition security. One aim is to create synergies between family farming – the dominant form of agriculture in Senegal – and agribusiness, while preserving the environment. According to a recent study by the Migrations between Africa and Europe Project, nearly half of Senegalese migrants in Europe send money to their families back in their villages.

To compensate for the low incomes generated by the families who stayed in their village, agriculture must be organised in structured commercial value chains and become more productive. PRACAS intends to provide farm jobs, technical training and equipment to more young people and women to offset foreign currency remittances and develop profitable local agriculture.