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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A Different Kind of Livestock

Crossposted from Nourishing the Planet.

I’ve had the opportunity to try some traditional—and tasty—local foods while I’ve been traveling in Africa, including amaranth, breadfruit, matooke (mashed banana), posho (maize flour), groundnut sauce, spider weed, sukuma wiki (a leafy green), and a whole lot of other vegetables and fruits with names that I can neither remember nor pronounce.

One thing I haven’t tried yet is found all over Africa and, in addition to being a food source, it is also considered a pest—grasshoppers. As I was walking through a market in Kampala, Uganda I noticed women “shelling” what I thought were beans, but upon closer inspection the baskets sitting between their legs were full of wriggling grasshoppers. As they sat, chatting with one another and the curious American, they were de-winging the insects so that they could be either sold “raw” or fried for customers.

Despite the yuck factor many of you reading this might have for eating insects, grasshoppers, crickets, termites, and other “bugs” can be a nutritious source of protein, vitamins, minerals,and other nutrients. According to the results from a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization workshop in 2008, caterpillars are an important source of food for many people in Central Africa, providing not only protein, but also potassium and iron.

Collecting and selling insects can also be an important source of income, especially for women in Africa. And as climate change increases the prevalence of certain insects, they become an even more important source of food in the future.

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