Turning Senegal’s rice self-sufficiency vision into reality
In the Senegal River Valley, the rice processing business Coumba Nor Thiam is working with farmers and investors, including the Common Fund for Commodities, to respond to a nationwide challenge.
Rice is the staple food of Senegal. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute the average Senegalese consumes 85kg per year. It is the core ingredient of millions of meals served up and down the country each day. Consequently rice, and the smallholders who produce it, has a crucial role to play in the nation’s economy, culture and food security.
Despite its prominence in the daily life of the nation, Senegal has for many years imported most of the rice it consumes. This leaves its people vulnerable to the price volatility of the international markets and is one of the reasons rice self-sufficiency has been a priority for almost 30 years. Progress has been made but there is still plenty of work to be done.
According to the US Department of Agriculture Senegal’s rice imports for the year from October 2021 to the end of September 2022, will total around 1.3 million metric tonnes, while local production is expected to be 1.25 million metric tonnes. The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the dangers of an overreliance on imports when several rice exporting countries suspended exports and the price of the commodity rose by more than 11% in one day.
A major part of the solution is to produce more rice by herself. Indeed, the fertile stretch that lies in the Senegal River Valley, in the north of the country that skirts the border with Mauritania. It is a region that combines the waters of the Senegal River with a favourable growing climate, to produce the majority of the country’s rice crop. But to achieve the goal of self-sufficiency more land needs to be cultivated and yields need to increase. The key to that is supporting smallholder farmers to improve their harvests.
The government and other development organisations have invested heavily in the area, building the infrastructure necessary for the sector to thrive. This is most successful when it is done in partnership with local rice millers like Coumba Nor Thiam (CNT), that understand the needs of smallholder rice farmers and can provide them with the access to national markets they often lack.
CNT, Senegal’s third largest rice processing company, proves what’s possible when the public and private sector work together effectively. It is helping both to reduce Senegal’s reliance on imports as well as generating greater prosperity that is rippling throughout the region.
To widen CNT’s impact the Common Fund for Commodities (CFC) is providing USD 1.46 million in financing to support its smallholder suppliers to produce rice even more effectively. The first part of the loan, disbursed in 2019, is being invested in building irrigation channels that turn previously unviable land into productive paddy fields, and providing the modern equipment needed to farm them efficiently. It is an example of how we are able to strengthen the commercial viability of local commodity producers by enabling private sector innovation.
Over the six-year period of the investment, CNT will expand its reach from 2,500 to 3,250 smallholders, increase the land under rice paddy cultivation by developing new rice plots and improving old ones, and enable smallholders to boost their yields. The aim is to increase the number of harvests from 1.2 times per year to 1.9, in turn this will enhance farmer incomes on average from EUR 789 per year to around EUR 1299.
Hector Besong, the CFC’s Portfolio and Risk Manager who visited CNT in Senegal earlier this year, says: “Smallholder farmers often struggle to fund the inputs they need to make the most of the rice seasons and there are no rural banks that will provide seasonal loans. CNT fills that gap, providing access to water through its three pumping stations and the irrigation channels it builds, as well as the high quality seeds and modern equipment that increase productivity. CNT then provides a stable national market for the farmers’ harvests.”
The positive results are evident in the relatively high yields of the region’s paddy fields and a growing prosperity that is slowing the flow of young people out of the area. It is, says Hector, an example of what can be achieved when governments and businesses converge to work together and responding quickly, through innovative solutions, to the emerging challenges.
Ibrahim Sall, founder and Managing Director of CNT, agrees: “The success of the rice sector is the result of good cooperation between the government of Senegal and rice producers. The support of the government has been very important this year. The government recently increased the price of rice paddy from CFA 130 francs to CFA 160 francs, this helps the farmers to offset increasing input costs especially the cost of fertiliser. We expect them to continue supporting the sector to meet the challenge of achieving self-sufficiency in rice.”
Most importantly behind each rice paddy is a farmer benefitting from the economic opportunity working with CNT creates. Farmers such as Seidou, who has been growing rice for 23 years. He currently cultivates 50 hectares and employs 12 seasonal workers. Aged 40 he is part of a younger generation of farmers eager to continue expanding their businesses.
“Without CNT and mechanised agriculture I would not be able to develop 50 hectares,” says Seidou. “My relationship with them is a win-win and I hope one day to own my own machines and be a millionaire. In our region many young people are involved in rice farming because they can earn a good living. Very few youths from this region choose to cross the desert for opportunities in Europe.”
Like many farmers in the Senegal River Valley Seidou is, clearly, thinking big. It is an entrepreneurial spirit CNT is eager to harness by increasing its rice processing capacity to 50,000 metric tonnes per year by 2023. By creating the conditions in which they can do this, providing the nurturing that every rice farmer needs, CNT is both driving prosperity locally and contributing to the nation’s goal of rice self-sufficiency.