SENEGAL: Empty granaries in Casamance

Friday, December 14, 2007

After a truncated rainy season in Senegal’s southern Casamance region, granaries are empty and many families are getting by on one meal a day.

Residents say as a result of food shortages some children are missing school, many families are divided as men leave to seek work, and people are increasingly turning to the production and sale of charcoal to make a living.

“Members of my family have not been able to eat their fill for three months now,” said Abdoulaye Diémé, a farmer who lives in Niaguis village east of the regional capital, Ziguinchor. “We have no chance for a rice harvest this year – the few rice crops we were able to plant dried out because of the abrupt end to the rains.”

This year the rainy season in Casamance – generally from June to end October – began in July and ended early October. In many areas across West Africa, flooding destroyed crops or erratic rains disrupted farming.

A November report by the Inter-State Committee to Fight Drought in the Sahel (CILSS), included regions in south and central Senegal in a list of zones across West Africa considered “at risk”.

The report said, “Clearly late planting, floods and the abrupt end to rains have provoked production losses and other damages” including the loss of human life and livestock.

In villages as well as in the capital, residents are worried about the months to come. Ziguinchor Mayor Robert Sagna, an agricultural engineer, said, “People in the city already face a very difficult situation.” He said people’s reserves are so low, their situation will worsen from December.

Officials with the government Early Warning System (EWS) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) say they are currently studying the food situation across the country.

“Following the CILSS report… we are working with the government to evaluate the food security situation and needs in Senegal,” Jean-Noël Gentile, WFP-Senegal deputy director, told IRIN. “There could be pockets of food insecurity that we must follow closely with the EWS.”

Across Senegal, agricultural production expected for 2007-08 is 11 percent lower than the average over the last five years, according to the Food Crises Prevention Network which says the figures are based on a 29-31 October review of cereal production.

Gentile said it was too early to declare whether parts of Senegal will face a crisis but “mitigating activities will certainly have to be implemented in some areas.”

He added that WFP operations in Senegal are under-funded, "which could be worrying should the 2008 lean season be more difficult than usual."

Help to bounce back

Tidiane Diédhou, a farmer in Babadinka village some 14km from Ziguinchor, hopes aid agencies will step in with activities for a temporary period just to help people bounce back.

“Food-for-work or income-generating programmes, for example,” he said. “Something like that would help us get back on our feet.”

Diédhou said he is concerned about the increase in charcoal-making and other effects of food shortages. “Many children in our area do not go to school – their parents cannot afford to buy supplies and uniforms. Instead the children try to make vegetable gardens or sell charcoal to make some money for the family; this was not the case in the past.

“[The increase in charcoal production] is another huge negative impact; it’s terrible for the environment.”

Many residents told IRIN more and more families – who used to live on farming – are broken up as men leave to seek other work.

Guesso Badiane’s husband left their village of Djbélor, 7km west of Ziguinchor. “I’m alone here with the [nine] children; if he has not come back, it’s because he did not find anything," she told IRIN. “If we do not find a solution soon, my children will have to abandon school."

"For two weeks now my children haven’t taken breakfast before going to school," Badiane said on 7 December. We have no millet or corn to prepare the porridge we would normally prepare.”

Badiane was on her way to her parched rice fields where she hoped to find some usable stalks. “We might not find enough to eat for months,” she told IRIN. “Our granary is completely empty.”

Many families who used to be able to turn to mango production during the lean months are hitting trouble there as well, as fruit flies are destroying mango plantations.

Source: IRIN