Desalinating the land in Senegal's Baboulaye Valley has brought smiles to farmers again, enabling them to become self-sufficient in rice.
By Abdourahmane Diallo
From Diofior, located about 150 kilometers southwest of the nation’s capital Dakar, the road to the Baboulaye Valley is chaotic.
But once there, the contrast is striking.
Vast stretches of water from which ripening rice crops emerge offer an idyllic landscape as far as the eye can see.
Here, only the chirping of seasonal birds, the light wind caressing the ears and the pelicans prowling around the grazing cows interrupt the flat calm.
This vast rice-growing area, once overrun by salt from the Saloum River and its main tributary, the Sine, has become suitable for agriculture again thanks to various projects, including the Multinational Program for Building Resilience to Food and Nutritional Insecurity in the Sahel (P2RS), funded by the African Development Fund (AfDF) to the tune of $40 million.
The P2RS carries out adaptive actions to climate change in six regions of Senegal.
It is within this framework that the Baboulaye Valley, in the Fatick region, has benefited from major hydro-agricultural infrastructure including three dams.
The first one, anti-salt and 900 meters long, prevents the infiltration of sea water and salt.
The other two allow the regulation of water thanks to spillway gates.
“When the anti-salt dyke was built, the saltwater strip was practically three kilometers long. The first washings, following the first rains, have allowed us to recover the low and medium salt parts, which cover about 300 hectares. Currently, we have 685 hectares available for farming,” says Aly Diallo, regional head of the P2RS.
To make the most of this salvaged land, the Senegalese Institute of Agricultural Research (ISRA) has developed two rice varieties-SRIZ 10 and WAR 77.
''This protects them from seed-eating birds. WAR 77 is suitable for deeper areas. Even with an excess of water, this variety develops well,” explains Dr. Alfred Kouly Tine, a researcher at the ISRA de Bambey (Centre).
Significant improvement in production
Thanks to these various initiatives, the results were not long in coming.
From one ton per hectare before the implementation of the project in 2015, agricultural yields have increased to 3 tons per hectare and even 5 tons in some areas.
“In 2020, there were families who used the rice they produced for more than a year's worth of food coverage,” the ISRA researcher enthuses.
“Thanks to this project, the commune of Diofior has achieved food self-sufficiency in rice. And the Baboulaye valley has become our granary,” says Babou Gningue, a producer who accompanies the rice growers’ cooperatives.
According to him, the recovered land is now available for rain-fed rice cultivation with a system that allows water to be retained for about three months.
The rice produced in Diofior is for the moment intended for local consumption.
However, marketing remains a long-term goal.
“When we get there, it will mean that we are moving towards food security,” says Babou Gningue.
As part of this project, 100 hectares of land have been reforested with 1,100 trees each, creating a real green belt over a large part of the valley.
Visiting the area, delegates from the African Development Fund praised the progress that has been made in transforming the agricultural situation of Diofior.
“It is a real pleasure to come and see what has actually been achieved on the ground and to see how the funding allocated by the ADF has been spent. Good partnerships and good project preparation at the outset help to build sustainability for the beneficiaries,” says Veronika Baumgartner Putz, AfDF delegate for Austria.
In Senegal, most P2RS objectives have been met or exceeded.
According to its National Coordinator, Younoussa Mballo, more than 7,000 hectares of land have been reclaimed from an initial target of 9,000 hectares.
Similarly, 547 market garden areas have been developed instead of 500.
Twenty-three dams have also been built instead of the 16 planned by the project.
“Overall, the project was implemented within the timeframe (5 years) with a disbursement rate of nearly 100 percent, notes Younoussa Mballo.
According to him, some 240 thousand producers and more than 60 thousand households have been reached by this project, which has enabled other development programs related to aquaculture, livestock, and capacity building of beneficiaries throughout the country.