Getting the Most of Out of Groundnuts in Senegal

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

This is the first blog in a series about Action Aid’s work in Senegal.

They are found on nearly every street corner in Western Africa—freshly roasted groundnuts are sold in small plastic bags or by the handful as a quick, protein-rich snack. These small nuts—which are technically legumes—have had a big influence on Africa. “Groundnuts,” says Moussa Faye, of Action Aid Senegal, “have made the wealth of this country.” But he explained that they’ve also created “poverty because of a crisis in groundnut sector after it was liberalized” by the government. One of Action Aid’s priorities in Senegal is to help groundnut farmers collectives find better ways to grow, process, and sell groundnuts and groundnut products. 

When they first started working with groundnut farmers in 2004, according to Faye, there were no good quality seeds available. To solve this problem, Action Aid worked with farmers to develop a seed multiplication program, which Faye says, has been more successful than the government’s seed multiplication program. Why? Because Action Aid’s program involved farmers. They helped groundnut farmers build a stronger network through the national groundnut platform, giving farmers groups the opportunity to communicate with government officials.

And Action Aid is helping link farmers to transporters and processors for groundnuts. Action Aid is also helping correct misconceptions about groundnut production. He says “it’s not just a cash crop, but a food crop” because so many poor people depend on it as an important source of protein. It also serves as the main fodder for horses, cattle, and other livestock—the same animals who help plough groundnut fields. It’s “extremely strategic to have groundnuts that nourish both people and animals,” says Faye. It’s also “not true that [groundnuts] destroy the soil,” according to Faye. Unsustainable farming and harvesting of groundnuts can lead to depletion of carbon in soils.

But when done the right way, groundnut farming can be both profitable and environmentally sustainable. “It’s part of peoples’ cultures,” says Faye, and farmers have mastered innovative ways to grow it. Groundnuts are also well adapted to the hot and dry conditions of Senegal. Farmers are also adding value to groundnuts by processing the crop themselves, instead of selling it to middlemen. In addition to grinding the nuts for butter and paste, farmers are also selling groundnut oil and oil cakes for animal feed. Farmers also developed ovens to burn the shells of the groundnuts for fuel for processing—the shells are very energy efficient, burning up to 12 hours. “Processing brings a lot of profits,” notes Faye and farmers with support from Action Aid are now building small processing plants in rural areas.

Stay tuned for more about Action Aid’s work with farmers in Senegal. Thank you for reading! As you may already know, Danielle Nierenberg is traveling across sub-Saharan Africa visiting organizations and projects that provide environmentally sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty. She has already traveled to over 18 countries and visited 130 projects highlighting stories of hope and success in the region. She will be in Benin next, so stay tuned for more writing, photos and video from her travels.

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Making a Living Out of Conservation

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

The farmers of the Neleshi Grasscutter and Farmers Association (NAGRAFA) consider themselves not only farmers and businesswomen and men, but also conservationists. Grasscutters, or cane rats, are found throughout Western Africa and, as their name suggests, they live in grasslands. But many poor farmers in Ghana use slash and burn methods on grasslands to provide short term nutrients to the soil, as well to drive out grasscutters and sell their meat, which is considered a delicacy. To help preserve the grasslands and help other farmers increase their incomes, NAGRAFA offers free trainings to farmers and youth about how to raise, slaughter, and process grasscuttter and rabbit meat.

The group is made up of about 40 active members--both men and women--who have been working together to find better ways to raise grasscutters and rabbits on a small-scale. Their biggest challenges, says Farmer Brown (which is the only name he gave us), the leader of the group is finding inexpensive ways of housing and feeding their animals,  finding better packaging for their products, and publicizing the health and nutritional qualities of their products.

NAGRAFA is also reaching out to youth to engage them in farming. Because the rabbits and grasscutters are cute, it's easy to get children and teenagers interested in them, according to Ekow Martin, one of the members of NAGRAFA. He's training 5 to 6 youth in his community about how to raise the animals--and earn money from the sale of the meat. And, Mary Edjah, another NASGRAFA farmer says that "we need more hands" to help raise rabbits and grasscutters. She and other members of the group are helping train 6 orphans about how to raise and care for the animals.

Ms. Edjah also says that raising grasscutters and rabbits helps "bring the family together" and "keeps the children at home." Raising these animals, says Mr. Martin, "changes everything." The family is happy, he says, because they're able to supplement their income, as well as improve the family's nutrition.

And like other livestock such as cattle and goats, grasscutters and rabbits are like walking credit cards, giving families the opportunity to sell them to pay for school fees or medicine, or eat them. Ms. Edjah says "that in times of need, women know they can slaughter the rabbits."

For more about NAGRAFA, check out the videos below.

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