Senegal Rice harvest (2)
Women in Senegal harvesting rice

Many years ago, there was a potential opportunity for us to work and live in Senegal. Back then I did some research on the country and from what I read and saw on the internet, I found fascinating. From it’s tragic slave history, to it’s vibrant culture and people, to the Senegalese fabrics, the music scene, it’s French colonial past, it’s challenges with water, it’s architecture – a marriage of African and Arabic styles and the way of life – all so completely different to anything I’ve ever known. I’ve wanted to visit Senegal for a long time. Just recently, I got my chance!

I went to Senegal with AgDevCo, an agricultural investment company that invests Mastercard money into Smallholder Farmer developments in Africa. It was a life time opportunity for me, to go there and to do what I love to do while being there. This time, I got to photograph smallholder farmers farming rice in the Northern Rosso region of Senegal, right on the border of Mauritania.

It’s dry, hot, flat and arid here. But due to the Senegal River, there is plenty of agriculture in this region, namely sugarcane and rice. The Senegal River originates in Guinea and winds it’s way down through Mali and then to Senegal, forming the border between Senegal and it’s northern neighbours.  Farmers make use of the canal system to pump water inland and to grow rice and sugarcane using flood irrigation. Senegal has two rainy seasons a year. Interestingly,  the farmers here do not seem celebrate rain as much as you’d think, especially if an unexpected downpour happens during their rice harvesting season. Any rain can cause havoc here, making it virtually impossible for farmers to get to their their rice crop. Rain will also result in the rice getting mould.

I took photographs of two of AgDevCo’s partners; CNT which is located on the border of Mauritania and Senegal in a town called Rosso and then of SFA which is located near the city of St-Louis. Both companies are supplied with rice by their local farmers. They assist these farmers with training, demo plots, harvesting with combine harvesters, milling the rice as well as packaging and marketing it. These partnerships have seen a number of smallholder farms grow in size, and have ultimately made it possible for the smallholder farmers to be competitive and to effectively contribute towards Senegal’s goal to dramatically reduce rice imports.

Women walking to the field
Women walking home from their fields
Fatou, Algui, Khoury (2)
Senegalese smallholder farmers

I learned a lot on this trip! Though sweet and short, West Africa no longer feels completely foreign! I found the Senegalese to be welcoming and friendly, despite being asked to be in photo’s! A special thanks goes to my interpreter, Cherief Diallo, who was more patient than anyone I know – especially when I attempted to speak French and the local language Wolof. My goodness, there was only one thing for me to do and that was to laugh at myself! There is definitely some room for improvement when it comes to me speaking the French language! Occasionally I broke out into Portuguese, Zulu and even Afrikaans (the South African simplified version of Dutch) – but they still smiled genuine smiles and despite me being limited with communication, I felt I was able to connect with them.  It was really helpful having Cherief travelling with me on this trip  – it was like having my own personal  guide! Someone who not only helped me communicate and get the shot’s I needed, but someone with a wealth of information. I learned a lot of about Senegal’s history, culture, religions and geography through Cherief.

On this trip, I was there just as the farmers were starting to harvest their rice. Much of it is done using combine harvesters, though initially, some of it is done manually. I also got to see the ‘every day life’ which is a subject that always fascinates me when I go to a new country. I love to see how people live. What they do ‘everyday,’ that is not my ‘every day!’ I will be posting a number of blog posts of my Senegal trip both here and on my Africa far and wide blog in the coming month. I hope these photo’s give you a glimpse of what Senegal is like and how the Senegalese successfully farm in such challenging conditions.