- Title: SENEGAL: Senegal farmers see long road to rice revolution
- Date: 6th June 2008
- Summary: VARIOUS OF BOY FILLING A SACK WITH WEEDS ON THE EDGE OF A RICE FIELD (2 SHOTS)
- Embargoed: 21st June 2008 13:00
- Location: Senegal
- Country: Senegal
- Topics: Industry
- Reuters ID: LVA4OJXZTFBE7MOSQCZAOH4QXYHA
- Story Text: Senegal wants to transform the River Senegal valley into a rice bowl for Africa, but the farmers already trying to make a living in the area say it will take more than fine words for the grand plan to work.
Senegal wants to transform the River Senegal valley into a rice bowl for Africa but the farmers there say it will take more than fancy words to bring the grand plan to fruition.
Faced with surging prices for imported rice, the staple for millions of poor people in the West African country, President Abdoulaye Wade unveiled plans in April to raise rice output fivefold in a year.
This week Wade joined world leaders at a U.N. summit on the global food crisis in Rome, where they pledged to tear down trade barriers and invest in farming in poor countries.
Abdoulaye Ba grows onions and rice using rudimentary tools and methods in the region where Wade's proposed rice bowl will be located.
"This government doesn't encourage farmers, that's the problem. If the government wants to make farming dynamic, they should provide farmers with the means from start to finish," Ba says.
Several other state initiatives have had little impact, like Wade's "Return to Agriculture" scheme launched two years ago in an attempt to stem the exodus of young Senegalese men trying to get to Europe in rickety boats.
Senegal is one of Africa's top aid recipients, yet farmers complain they have little to show despite the shiny SUVs aid workers and ministry officials drive around the capital Dakar.
Promised tractors and water pumps have either failed to materialise or been snapped up by ruling party cronies, says Alioun Diop, a sugar company worker who cultivates 1.45 hectares of rice and other crops.
"It seems they have helped with fertilisers, they are giving water pumps, but they have politicised even these water pumps. They have given them to village council workers, or even the mayor himself, who in turn gives them to his relatives," he said.
Much arable land here lies fallow because farmers say they don't have the money to buy seed, pesticides, weed killer and fertiliser. Farmers take seed and chemicals on credit from suppliers on condition they sell their harvest to the same trader, reducing their bargaining power and ability to benefit from high rice prices.
Boubie Vincent Bado heads a research station in Ndiaye for the Africa Rice Center (WARDA).
"Senegal can become self-sufficient in rice. It could even export rice. But that's the potential, now what we need is the political effort to accompany the measures, to give farmers the support they need to exploit this potential," Bado said.
The potential is huge. Here in the broad Senegal River valley, irrigation channels dug since the 1970s have created a lush band of fertile land that sweeps around Senegal's northern and eastern border with Mauritania, slicing through the scorched savannah of the Sahel.
Some farmers in the region harvest nine tonnes or more of rice per hectare -- among the world's highest yields -- thanks to sunshine, irrigation, good husbandry and state support services that some agronomists say are the most efficient in West Africa.
- Copyright Holder: REUTERS
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