I got another fantastic opportunity with AgDevCo this December and went right across to Senegal to photograph one of their company partners, CNT S.U.A.R.L. CNT are an agricultural company that specialise in farming rice. They operate 7000 hectares of rice in the Senegal Valley region. 6000 of these hectares are operated by the local smallholder farmers who have partnered with CNT.

Senegal Rice harvest (2)
CNT smallholder farmers harvesting rice in the Senegal Valley region
Fatou, Algui, Khoury (2)
Senegalese women

This project is located in Thiagar, near Rosso and the border of Mauritania. The farmers operate just inland from the Senegal River, using a network of canals to irrigate their rice plots. Due to the existence of a large irrigation dam (Barrage de Diama) and the use of canals for irrigation, farmers are encouraged to take advantage of this by planting 2 crops a year.

I was there during their dry season in December just before harvesting was due to begin. I spent 2 insightful days with CNT and their farmers. Not only did I thoroughly enjoying working with the Senegalese people but I found it a fascinating region in the way of agriculture and culture. At first sight, it’s hard to imagine how they achieve what they do. But thankfully, with a good supply of water from the Senegal River and with the support and assistance offered by CNT, these farmers have succeeded in creating a robust and dynamic rice sector.

CNT was founded in 1987 by Mr Ibrahima Sall. The project started small, as a 5 hectare plot. Then in 1989, CNT expanded their project to 40 hectares of rice and worked with the refugees in the region. It’s gone from strength to strength and has uplifted the community and given the smallholder farmers who were not eligible for funding, access to funding and a sustainable opportunity to cultivate rice commercially.

Harvesting rice in Senegal (4)

Meeting with extension officer
Early morning training session with traditional mint tea!

CNT offer their members support and assistance in a number of ways from growing through to harvesting, processing and marketing. Last year, AgDevCo’s Smallholder Development Unit (SDU) partnered with CNT, to help them achieve an increase in their production capacity. AgDevCo provide technical assistance in the way of training in seed production techniques, IT software support that will assist CNT’s planning and management for their intended expansion and the initiation of Demo plots.

Sadly I missed the main harvesting season when an impressive 8 combine harvesters belonging to CNT fire up their engines and harvest 8000 smallholder plots of rice! Though I missed this action, I did manage to capture the initial harvesting by hand that starts in the run up to the harvesting start date. My shooting conditions when on these shoots are often a challenge in that they can happen in the middle of the day, which I can assure you is very bright especially with Senegal’s white, sandy soils. I was lucky to have Cherif Diallo as my interpreter and who turned out to be a great lighting assistant too! On these shoots, it is as much about the ‘people’ I meet and connect with as it is about the photography. To get those ‘uplifting shots,’ I need to connect with the people I am photographing on some level. The fact that my French and Wolof is too terrible for words (!) this made Cherif a very important factor with regards to the success of this shoot in the way of communication! Cherif is an Economics masters student at the University of St-Louis. He is originally from the Republic of Guinea but has lived most of his life in Senegal. Cherif was easy to work with and went out of his way to help me with my lighting challenges and has an excellent command of English, French and the local language ‘Wolof.’ It was interesting to work with Cherif as he provided me with a wealth of information about Senegal’s history, culture and geography. Though I was in Senegal for a mere 5 days, thanks to Cherif I feel I got to know so much more about Senegal than I would normally on such a short visit. As well as an interpreter and a lighting assistant, it was like having my own personal tourist guide! A real win for me!  So this is a big shout out to Cherif! I can highly recommend him as an interpreter and I see him having a very bright future in Senegal!

Chasing birds from rice crop (1)
Keeping the birds away from the rice crop!
Smallholder farmer in Senegal
CNT farmer

Although our time was short in Senegal, this visit has really sparked an interest for me in West Africa. I really had no idea what to expect! The west of Africa seems so far away from us in these Southern parts of Africa. Though short and sweet, it was such an incredible opportunity for me to go there with AgDevCo.  The history is fascinating, the fabrics and people are so colourful and they have a beautiful culture of hospitality. Their agriculture is fascinating especially with their climatic challenges. To do what they do is admirable. It’s definitely somewhere I would like to go back to and to get know. I just need to work on my French!

Senegalese woman farmer
Senegalese woman farmer

* All images are licenced to AgDevCo