Millet is one of the most important crops in Senegal. Although most farm income comes from cash crops like groundnuts or peanuts, millet remains the main food in the country’s rural areas.
But desertification, drought and the decline in soil fertility over the past few years have taken their toll on millet harvests, particularly in three regions in Senegal (Kaffrine, Fatick and Kaolack) where 25 percent of Senegal’s farming population lives. Millet as the main source of food was getting harder and harder to grow.
For farmers who had raised millet for centuries, there wasn’t a thorough understanding of how to apply modern technologies to millet. When and how to use fertilizer, which kinds, how natural methods like mulching and covering the field could drastically help, and understanding water and pest management could all improve millet yields—generating not only for more food, but increased incomes as well.
With support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), NCBA CLUSA began the Millet Business Services Project (MBSP) in 2014, building on another USDA millet project from 2009-2013 (Millet Value Chain Project). But a challenge was getting this training out to the farmers across these regions, many of whom were not connected at all.
During the first phase of the millet projects (2009-2013), NCBA CLUSA and local community partnerships helped to organize a Producers Union, federating all the smaller producer organizations across the three regions.
In Senegal, where the legal term “cooperatives” is not typical, but producer organizations are common, the cross-regional organization helped to form a structure where small, local farmers could have their voices heard at regional and national levels. Information flowed up to advocate for farmers, and the union was able to provide marketing and quality services, similar to a cooperative.
It became clear that training and more information were needed for local farmers. With this Producers Union in place, NCBA CLUSA facilitated a partnership with the National Agency for Agriculture and Rural Councils (ANCAR), a public-private organization that brought government trainers out through the farmer networks.
“It is quite natural that these two structures would work together to develop synergies in the interventions,” said Aboulaye Sy, director of ANCAR. After leading trainings, he noted that farmers who had come from families who had grown millet for centuries were still learning new techniques like crop disease prevention.
Khady Faye, one of the millet farmers who received training from ANCAR, agreed that what she had learned would dramatically increase her yields. “This helped me understand how to plant millet Souna 3 in particular, which is a variety adapted to our specific climate zone,” Faye said. “This training will allow me to considerably increase my yields from 500 kg to 1000 kg per hectare.” Doubling her yields, she said, would strengthen her families’ income and make it easier to pay for food supplies and school fees. “I will win,” Faye said.
Faye is a member of the Mboga Thiom Organization of producers from Ndiemou village. They are members of the Producers Union, which is how she heard about the training.
Through these structures, over 3,000 farmers like Faye were trained with expertise from ANCAR, extending the reach of government training and local resources. With a partnership with the Producers Union, ANCAR was able to exceed their training goal by more than 280 farmers.
Programs like these show how connecting people, farmers, organizations and creating partnerships can extend training, knowledge and opportunities beyond one farm or even one region. In the long term, with the support of the USDA Millet Business Services Project, the Producers Union can strengthen and become a full legal cooperative.
With the marketing and quality control work already done with producers, in a few years the price of millet on the market has more than doubled, from around 75 FCFA to up to 200 FCFA. As millet becomes more marketable, it can be a source of income as well as food. Without working together, many of these farmers may not have been able to take advantage of rising prices.
The USDA|MBSP project continues to strengthen producer groups, improve yields and market millet, galvanizing partnerships and providing more economic opportunities in the process. Learn more about the project here.