DAKAR, November 1, 2016 – Farming has and continues to be a pivotal economic activity in Senegal, employing 49.5% of the Senegalese population. The agricultural sector contributes 12 to 15% of Senegal’s gross domestic product (GDP), and the potential for increasing revenue generated from agriculture is significant. In recent years, the government has made important efforts to support the sector, mobilizing 112 billion francs CFA for inputs and agricultural equipment. It has also launched a campaign to reach rice self-sufficiency in 2017 and has heavily invested in climate smart agriculture.
And yet despite this, the perception of farmers is one of someone who lives very modestly, or even someone who is poor. It is of someone who toils with his or her bare hands under the hot sun every day for meager financial returns.
On the occasion of this year’s End Poverty Day, the World Bank office in Senegal interviewed three youth who explained why they chose to pursue agriculture and the importance of changing perceptions of the sector.
Ibrahima Ndiaye, 27 year old cashew farmer from Kaolack
“My father is a farmer, so I began working in agriculture when I was just a kid, mostly raising chickens. After I finished my studies in project management at the University of Dakar’s School of Economic Science and Management (IFACE), I decided to return to agriculture, out of love for the activity.
Many youth believe that the path to success is through management or business school, and office desk jobs. When those who left their village for Dakar, Saint-Louis, or Thies return driving a nice car and wearing fancy clothes, youth from the village get the impression that material success can only be obtained by leaving the fields behind.
When I decided to launch my agriculture project (growing cashews), I asked my father and my grandfather for some land to get started. Access to land is a big barrier to youth going into agriculture, so I was lucky my family already possessed land. However, I still struggle with reliable access to water, inputs, and mechanical equipment.
My view on the rural exodus is based on the lack of access to mechanized agricultural tools. Senegal continues to rely heavily on manual labor that only older generations are willing to do, because they have been doing it for a long time. Youth are no longer willing to do so much manual labor because the returns are not worth the labor and time investment. That’s why I think that greater mechanization of farming techniques could be a game changer.”
Oumar Ba, 31 year old cattle farmer from Namarel
“I think that there are two reasons why many young Senegalese do not chose to work in agriculture: lack of practical training and negative perceptions.
Many of those who learn how to farm mainly learn from their elders and family, and don’t have access to trainings on modern agricultural techniques. This limits their abilities and yields, as well as their vision of what farming or raising livestock could be on a larger scale than a family farm. If you train young people in livestock farming, and they managed their herds well with two live births per head per year, they could easily make a good living.
I have a friend that moved back from Italy and started poultry farming and now he is making a good salary, owns a car, and employs other youth. He is a perfect example of how young people can be successful working in agriculture, however these kinds of success stories aren’t showcased enough in our culture yet. Young Senegalese perceive agriculture as a traditional form of employment that isn’t very profitable.”
Fatoumata Bineta Diop, 29 years old, coordinator at the National Board of Women in Livestock Farming
“I am not a farmer myself, but I come from a region (Kolda, in the south of Senegal) where farming is very important and employs many women. As a coordinator for the National Board of Women in Livestock Farming (Directoire national des femmes en élevage, DINFEL), an association made up of older women working in livestock farming that are looking to hand over their work to the younger generation, I am working to attract young men and women to the agriculture sector through events and training programs. It is important that older generations of farmers pass down their knowledge to new ones, and that new generations bring additional knowledge and techniques to keep the sector alive and profitable. I really think it is important to insist on farmer successes stories to attract young people, to show them that young people working in agriculture can be well off and live comfortably.”