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agriculture in Senegal
The story of sustainable agriculture in Senegal is one of success that should be used as a guide for other countries. Between 1960 and the early 1980s, Senegal used monocropping, a dangerous practice where only one crop is grown year after year, leaching more and more nutrients from the ground. This eventually left the soil void of essential nutrients. When the area was hit by drought in the early 1980s, the land was unable to cope, and the country suffered from food shortages. However, over the last 20 years, Senegal has been using sustainable agriculture to bring back fertility to the soil.

In 1989, the United States government began working with Rodale International to come up with a plan to restore the soil. The plan was to use crop rotation. Every three years, one of four different plants would be sown in the soil. Each plant would only take certain nutrients from the ground and replace others. One of these plants was peanuts, the plant that caused the problem in the first place, and the second was millet. Both are now the main agricultural exports of Senegal. The other two crops in rotation are cowpeas and cassava.

The International Production and Pest Management Program

The United States and international companies are not the only organizations helping improve sustainable agriculture in Senegal. Senegal has been part of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) IPPM program since 2001. The IPPM (Integrated Production and Pest Management Program) is dedicated to responsible pest control practices. The program touches on many points to control pests; however, its most important lesson is the responsible use of pesticides.

Pesticides remain a continuous problem in Senegal and most of the world due to their overuse. Pesticides stay in the water table, contaminating drinking water. They also hurt the soil since the chemicals build up over time and stay on the crops. When consumed pesticides are harmful to humans and animals. This is not to say that they are not sometimes necessary, but the IPPM suggests a less-is-more approach.

Syngenta

Private foundations are also doing their part. Syngenta, a Swiss-based based agricultural firm, has a foundation called the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture. The foundation works with public and private sector partners in order to finance innovations in sustainable agriculture. They also work with the World Bank, USAID and both the Swiss and Australian governments.

Since 2014, Syngenta has been promoting sustainable agriculture in Senegal’s rice production. In 2015, the organization began helping farmers gain access to better-mechanized equipment to facilitate rice cultivation in the Senegal River Valley. The overall approach of the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture is to work with the entire system. The work with NGO’s and governments to help small farmers become more productive has helped to increase the economic benefit of sustainable farming practices. It also helps the farmers better feed themselves and their families.

Improving the Economy Through Sustainable Agriculture

The soil is becoming productive again, and farmers are gaining access to better techniques and equipment. However, the fight is not over. Senegal suffers from an unemployment rate of 47 percent. In 2017, the agricultural industry employed 77 percent of the population in Senegal, an estimated 6.9 million people. However, the agriculture industry only makes up only about 17 percent of the of the country’s GDP. The next step to better economic stability will be to tackle these issues. Hopefully, like its soil, the Senegalese economy will now rejuvenate and grow for all.

– Nicholas Anthony DeMarco
Photo: Flickr

agriculture basics
Most organizations who train farmers in impoverished countries champion ‘sustainable agriculture,’ and who wouldn’t? Self-explanatory though it may sound, ‘sustainable agriculture’ encompasses a variety of techniques that benefit people economically and physically while still protecting the environment. Here are some sustainable agriculture basics:

1. Crop Rotation

Crop rotation is one of the earliest methods of sustainable farming, and has been employed since the mid-19th century. A farmer who plants fields of corn year after year eventually depletes his soil of essential nutrients. Because these are required for healthy corn to grow, the farmer must replenish his fields with fertilizers that contain elements like nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus.

This is a problem for farmers in countries without developed infrastructures. Because transporting the fertilizer becomes so labor intensive, the price skyrockets.

Crop rotation is the natural solution to this particular conundrum. Studies have shown that corn grown biennially, with soybeans grown in the same fields on the off years, yields 5 to 20 percent more harvest.

But it’s not just soil health that crop rotation affects. It is an essential part of another technique called ‘Integrated pest management.’

2. Integrated Pest Management

The same crop planted year after year provides a reliable food source for insects that prey upon it. Replacing that food source with another breaks down the reproductive cycle of the insect population, ultimately controlling the insects’ numbers.

Integrated Pest Management also advocates the reintroduction of insects’ natural predators. Bats, birds and spiders all play a role in managing pests, though they are often killed off by insecticides.

3. Water Conservation

One of the most important aspects of sustainable farming is water conservation. Nearly 70 percent of the world’s water consumption goes to the agriculture sector. This amount can be minimized by ensuring that irrigation systems are in order and effective and by preventing water evaporation using cover crops and mulch.

The greatest way to conserve water is to plant crops in regions similar to that of their native climates. Transporting large amounts of water to sustain non-native plants is, at least, uneconomical. It is commonly practiced in the industry, nonetheless. In Spain, ‘summer crops’ like tomatoes and melons are grown during the winter at the cost of terribly water-intensive irrigation systems.

On the other hand, many varieties of amaranth and barley are drought-resistant; they thrive in areas with very little rain.

4. Weeds

Weeds are perhaps the obstacle sustainable farmers can say the least about. On small farms, some advocate removing them by hand. On larger farms that is implausible. Other people propose burning fields after harvest to prevent weeds from spreading seeds. This, though effective, is a source of pollution and a potential health hazard to farmhands.

5. Sustainable is not Organic

A sustainable farm is not always an organic farm. Often, the only way to deal with pests, weeds and the like is to use commercial products. In practice, sustainable farming seeks to make farms healthier for people and their environment. They are not meant to bankrupt the farmer in the pursuit of a totally ‘green’ enterprise, nor are they meant to be advertised by those who make minimal effort to be sustainable.

Sustainable farming is an endeavor requiring moderation, effort and strategy, but the benefits are worth it.

Olivia Kostreva

Sources: Discovery, National Geographic, Agriculture Sustainability Institute
Photo: The Atlantic