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Friday, 24 May, 2002, 15:08 GMT 16:08 UK
Peanut blues in Senegal
A peanut  harvest
Farmers earn only 20 US cents a kilo for their crop

Forget about fishing and tourism, the average Senegalese lives - literally - on peanuts.

Of course, fishing and tourism play important roles in the Senegalese economy.

When you are planting, you think this year I will marry a woman... But then at the end of the harvest, your crop is not sold.

Mbaye Faye, Co-operative manager
But it is the peanut crop which keeps hundreds of thousands of peasant farmers in the fields.

It provides a modest means of support for their families now and probably for generations to come.

And nowhere is the dependence on peanuts more apparent than in Kaolack.

The city calls itself a crossroads, a natural trading centre, whose market includes huge stocks of gold, cloth and electrical equipment.

But there are also peanut farmers and traders in evidence - for Kaolack is the capital of Senegal's "peanut basin".

Worried farmers

As secretary-general of the local chamber of commerce, Amadou Traore sees at first-hand just how important a thriving peanut sector is to the local economy.

He says that if there are any problems with Senegal's leading cash crop, the impact locally will be huge. <

Mr Traore acknowledges that things are unsettled at the moment, for this is a period of change and experimentation.

The reforms have been a long time coming but are now beginning to have a serious impact.

The peanut sector thrived in 4,500 villages before changes set in
Farmers say they feel vulnerable since the government stopped subsidies

Sonacos, the state-run company, which has dominated the peanut economy for years is being privatised.

Its subsidiary, Sonagraines, which used to collect farmers' harvests and take them to the processing plants, has already been dissolved.

President Abdoulaye Wade has warned that the days of guaranteed state subsidies are over.

On a recent visit to Kaolack, Mr Wade received a warm reception.

But there were also banners on display, urging him not to abandon farmers.

Farmers felt vulnerable and needed reassurance.

Fixed price

One man in a position to offer explanations and support is Ibrahima Fall.

He is the local head of the Senegalese Union of Agricultural Cooperatives, (UNCAS), which looks after the interests of peasant farmers in over 4,500 villages.

UNCAS arranges for peasants to be paid a fixed price of 120 CFAS francs, around 20 US cents, for a kilo of nuts.

Mr Fall is convinced any traumas will be temporary and the changes will work in the long run.

"As for this year's harvest , it's no secret that there was a deficit of about 65 billion CFA francs, $100 million.

"It couldn't go on like that. All the different stakeholders got together at a meeting in Louga and we are now making a fresh start".

Cash on delivery

But at the Kaolack-Touba cooperative, producers are less optimistic.

This is the height of the "commercialisation" period, when peanuts are brought into depots for storage and then sent out to factories.

At Kaolack-Touba, rusty, out-moded processing machines work on the nuts which have come in.

But farmers are more worried about how to get their crops to the factories.

Sonagraines' demise means they are dealing with a new system where the factories pay on delivery.

UNCAS would like to organise its own transport system, but does not have the necessary capital.

Cooperative President Cheikh Dieng says private operators are now coming in and buying up farmers' stocks at lower prices because they cannot go through the usual channels.

The Kaolack-Touba team hopes new actors and systems will emerge in time.

But at the moment, business is down.

The co-operative's manager, Mbaye Faye, says that means everybody suffers.

"We hope there will be an improvement. The rural population has explained how it is suffering.

"We are waiting for money. People in the rural areas live off agriculture and we have our ambitions.

"When you are working, you think this year I will buy a bed, this year I will buy a radio set, this year I will marry a woman.

"But then at the end of the harvest and after you take your crop to collection point, your crop is not sold.

"That is a setback for the farmer."

See also:

15 May 02 | Business
29 Apr 02 | Business
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