By Amadou Ba and Boubacar Sow
In Senegal, the dry northern area called the Fouta is known for migration; Fouta youth often leave in search of economic opportunities despite the potential of local agriculture. But for some, coming home turns out to be the best opportunity.
For 16 years, Aliou Kane moved around seeking economic opportunities outside of the Fouta and even outside of Senegal. However, in 1996 he decided to return to his Fouta roots to take up onion farming. Onions are a staple in Senegal and a principle ingredient in most traditional dishes. He started small, as do many subsistence Fouta farmers, with less than one hectare.
In 2006, Aliou began receiving technical, organizational and financial support from Counterpart International’s Food For Progress program funded by the U. S. Department of Agriculture. This support allowed Aliou to greatly expand his business from five to 15 and finally to 30 hectares. His yields have also improved: each hectare of Aliou’s land now produces five additional metric tons of food than it did before the intervention.
He was able to access $40,000 of credit from a local microfinance agency thanks to the guarantee funds put in place by Counterpart. Without these funds, he would not have had enough collateral to secure a loan. Today, Aliou pays his loans on time and has annual revenues of $138,000—more than seven times what he earned in 2007. He has been able to purchase four pumps for irrigation, two vehicles and a house.
“With training, I built my capacity to follow good planting techniques and business practices,” says Aliou. “This has allowed me to increase my production and revenues.”
These days, Aliou is focused on diversification and is now producing corn, rice, hot peppers and seeds on 10 additional hectares. He also has plans to enter into the livestock farming business. After receiving Food For Progress support to attend a national agriculture fair in 2012, Aliou focused his ambitions on formalizing his business in order to raise his profile in the eyes of the potential partners he meets at these national venues.
Thanks to his flourishing businesses, Aliou is well known in the Fouta and is the youngest village chief in his area. He has also been able to buy shares and invest in other local agriculture businesses.
Aliou wants to serve as an example to youth in his area who are thinking of seeking greener pastures elsewhere. He tells them, “I am actually doing much better financially now then I was when I was out of the country.”
This success story is featured on foodaid.org, a resource for the policy community and development practitioners to learn about U.S. food assistance programs.