Summers are hungry times for the poor of Senegal, who must endure an annual “lean season,” lasting from June to September. Food insecurity caused by fluctuating food prices and unpredictable cereal harvests can leave hundreds of thousands of Senegalese malnourished and ill. Though Senegal’s economy relies mainly on the success of its agricultural sector – nearly 80 percent of the country’s people are employed in the industry, that success does not always translate to adequate nourishment for its 13 million people.
This year, underwhelming crop outputs are largely to blame for the food shortage Senegal is currently facing. Cereal harvests typically produce 20 percent more food than they have this year. As an added effect, the lean season started even earlier than usual this year, extending the period of chronic food insecurity for over half a million people.
Hunger has the power not only to kill and make ill, but also to disrupt families and throw individuals further into poverty. In Senegal, men often leave rural areas to seek food or employment in urban centers, forcing women to bear the burden of childcare at home. Many women, failing to obtain adequate food and water supplies for their families, resort to selling many of their possessions to make ends meet. Still, that is often not enough.
What’s the good news? Senegal is one of the most stable countries in Africa and has been since its independence from France in 1960. That makes it much easier for humanitarian agencies to work with the Senegalese government to implement effective aid programs. Currently, the World Food Programme of the United Nations is collaborating with Senegal to bring food to 675,000 of its people during the lean season.
The food aid strategy Senegal employs is based on a voucher system, in which households receive a monthly voucher they can use to feed their families. The program is very popular among the Senegalese people; one voucher recipient noted that, “from today forward, I will be able to feed my children, prepare rice the way I like it, and also save money to pay back my debts.”
With successful, targeted food aid programs like World Food Programme’s, the people of Senegal may be able to weather what is already the worst lean season of the last five years. Additional foreign aid aimed at Senegal would only extend that effect to even more people.
– Elise L. Riley