OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Securing Sustainable Food Systems in West Africa

Our vision is to improve health and well-being of rural communities by developing sustainable food security using green technologies.

Photo of Paulomi Bhattacharyya
7 1

Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Center for renewable Energy and Appropriate Technology for the Environment (CREATE!)

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

N/A

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://www.createaction.org/

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Eugene

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Fatick, Kaolack and Linguere regions of rural Senegal, covering an area of approximately 27,578 square kilometers.

What country is your selected Place located in?

Senegal

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

CREATE!s program in Senegal is the brainchild of founder Barry Wheeler and Ibrahima Kebe, CREATE!’s first Country Director in Senegal, a Senegalese himself. Since 1984, Wheeler had been working with both villagers and refugees in Africa to help ameliorate the conditions of hardship in their lives. His work with the rural communities there was the inspiration for creating an NGO that would employ the best practices he had learned to help rural African villages sustainably meet basic human needs. Wheeler also noticed that countries in East Africa featured prominently in the usual philanthropy discourse even though West African countries shared similar needs. That led him and his co-founders to focus on West African countries in general, and Senegal in particular, since it is one of the most peaceful countries in West Africa with a stable Government, but similar climatic conditions and environmental needs as any other country in the Sahel. With Ibrahima Kebe's help, Wheeler and CREATE! thus focused on Senegal to start this journey, which we hope will lead CREATE! to other West African countries in the future.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

There isn’t a single cloud in the endless blue sky, stretching from horizon to horizon. Sun scorches the dry, barren land that is scattered with shrubs and baobab trees offering little shade, withered by dusty winds blowing off the Sahara. Temperatures hover around 100 F during the dry season here. A time when cattle and goat herders migrate south in search of better grazing land for their livestock, as the desert encroaches year after year. There is a small, rural town where distant neighboring villages visit each week for the market, arriving by donkey-cart, motorcycle, or occasionally on foot with colorful baskets and buckets for produce. Children run back and forth in the deserted road, laughing and kicking up the sand as they chase a soccer ball. Trails of cooking smoke float towards the sky between tanned, square building and huts with dried grass rooftops. Women dressed head to toe in gorgeous, colorful dresses walk amongst the buildings, smiling as they greet each other, “salaam alaikum.” Welcome to Senegal.


Situated in the Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa, Senegal has an arid environment vulnerable to unpredictable rainfall patterns brought on by climate change. Access to water is limited in most regions due to the short rainy season. This has restricted agricultural cultivation for more than half the population of the country that relies on seasonal agriculture as a mode of living. With a lack of viable livelihood opportunities in their own rural regions, many men and women often migrate to either urban regions within Senegal or to Europe in search of better economic prospects. But this has not eroded the lively spirit of the people. One of the central values that drives Senegalese people is the Teranga, or hospitality. As Chef Pierre Thiam describes, “This is a country that values the wealth of a person not by how much he has, but by how much he shares, by how much he gives.”
Teranga is especially present in Senegalese food and drinks traditions as people eat meals from one large bowl and share drinks like Café Touba and Attaya tea throughout the day together. Ceebu Jen is the most popular dish. It’s a delicious, traditional meal of rice, cooked vegetables, and fish shared amongst friends, family, and neighbors. People gather around to share conversation, laughs, and rich nutritious food.


However, many farmers have moved away from growing nutritious food and focusing on cash crops because of the income exportation offers. Unfortunately, mono-culture strips the soil of nutrients and limits farming productivity. Combined with climate change, mono-culture increases desertification and rural exodus. Many people in Senegal hope to improve the infrastructure and livelihoods in their own villages rather than moving away from their families to earn an income in the cities or abroad. Dijby Top, a young man from the community of Ouarkhokh explains, “It is better to work for my community’s development instead of working for the profit of others.”

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

27578

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

448430

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

“Water is life” is a well-known phrase throughout Senegal, where the annual dry season is nine months long. Agriculture here is traditionally carried out during the short rainy season with nearly 90% of agricultural land worked by small-scale, family-based farms engaged in subsistence agriculture. Senegalese farmers mainly grow sugarcane, groundnuts and cotton as cash crops with rest of the production concentrating on subsistence crops like rice and millet (http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4841e.pdf). The Government of Senegal’s “Emerging Senegal Plan” to create a diversified and resilient economy also focuses on subsidizing cash crops and cereals (http://www.presidence.sn/en/pse/results-and-perspectives). In this situation, climate change resulting in decreased rainfall, droughts and desertification has restricted water access further. With less cultivation area and erratic rainfall, rural families concentrate more on cash crop cultivation than food crops to sustain them economically. Senegal thus has become a net importer of food crops. For poor rural households, this limits their ability to consume nutritious food since their economic situation doesn't allow them to buy expensive imported food. This has in turn impacted food security, nutrition and dietary diversity adversely with the World Food Program estimating that 17% of people in Senegal are food insecure. (https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1864/Senegal-Nutrition-Profile-Mar2018-508.pdf). While the geography, environment and climate of the place has constrained agricultural activities, the population in search of viable economic opportunities have started to migrate to urban regions within Senegal or to Europe. Based on a survey conducted by FAO in the rural regions of Kaolack and Matam in Senegal, majority of the migrants are men with 50% working in agriculture before migrating (http://www.fao.org/rural-employment/resources/detail/en/c/1174347/). With the men migrating, the women are left alone to cultivate their farms and take care of the rest of the family. This breaks down the cultural fabric of the community.

The current situation in Senegal being this dire, the prospects for the future are austere. With population expected to double from 17 million in 2020 to 34 million in 2050 according to World Population Review (http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/senegal-population/), the pressure on food availability in an already food insecure country is going to be enormous. Adverse effects of climate change will lead to more desertification and lack of water for irrigation and drinking. The UN estimates that by 2050, one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water (https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/water-and-sanitation/). The challenge for the future of course is not just to increase the production of food, but to improve the pathways for that food to reach the population. This includes the need to have technology to preserve food better, to improve trade opportunities and to improve the overall life of the rural Senegalese.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

The Center for Renewable Energy and Appropriate Technology for the Environment (CREATE!) aims to help the rural communities in Senegal achieve food security, improved nutrition and healthy lives using environmentally appropriate technologies in keeping with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In a region where water is scarce and sunlight is plentiful, CREATE!s innovative vision harnesses abundant solar energy (in the form of solar water pumps) in place of fossil fuels to help achieve perennial access to water using a community partnership model. This water helps communities improve their food security and resultant nutritional outcomes. Since 2010, the 17 communities that have partnered with CREATE! are now growing seven different varieties of nutritious fruits and vegetables in the West African desert with more than 97% of the women achieving Minimum Dietary Diversity (MDD-W), a verifiable nutritional indicator. Together with improved food security, CREATE! also strives to decrease the desertification of rural Senegal and improve the arid environment through annual reforestation campaigns in all its communities. Partner communities plant a range of trees for shade, live-fences, and produce including papayas, acacias, cashews, lemons, mangos, and moringa trees. These trees serve as an essential source of food, medicine, shade, wind protection, and firewood. They are often fast-growing and resilient in Senegal’s climate and helps turn the desert into an oasis.

CREATE!s ultimate goal is to develop self-sufficient rural communities in Senegal using culturally and environmentally appropriate ways. This includes improving the health and wellbeing of the communities through sustainable year round agriculture, promoting clean energy and environmental conservation, improving economic opportunities and empowering the women beneficiaries. Towards this goal, CREATE! not only helps communities grow nutritious food year-round, but also teaches them poultry raising techniques that helps improve nutrition as well as generates income. The income generated through sale of excess vegetables and poultry helps community members become economically empowered and reduces the need for migration. CREATE! partner communities also gain financial literacy through a Voluntary Savings and Lending Program (VSLA) that teaches them to save part of their income that can be used for purposes as varied as religious festivals or family emergencies. 

 To meet the future challenges, CREATE! envisions reinforcing the Government of Senegal’s “Emerging Senegal Plan” by helping communities connect to private sectors  and exporters of fruits and vegetables in order to sell their excess produce commercially. CREATE! also plans to connect with the Governments’ Plan for Sustainable Reforestation of the National Territory to usher in a “green” revolution in Senegal and to develop ways to conserve the natural ecosystem and help replenish the aquifers feeding our village wells.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

CREATE!s vision for the future is to see a “real green revolution” in Senegal and other similar regions of Africa. By growing food in the desert, CREATE!s partner communities are already turning a part of the desert into a green oasis. Once the challenge of meeting the water crisis and helping people grow sustainable food year-round is accomplished for more and more rural Senegalese villages, we will see a greener and food secure Senegal. Food security and subsequent better economic opportunities will decrease under nourishment and make the people of the region healthier and happier. They will now have a secure economic future and will be able to afford better health and education opportunities. Better health opportunities will result in lower mortalities among children and women. Better health and nutrition among children will help them concentrate in school and get more out of their education.

The reforestation campaigns that plant about 20,000 trees every year will stop and hopefully reverse the desertification of the region, making the “green revolution” a reality. More trees will result in more rainfall, making food cultivation easier for the communities. A cleaner and greener Senegal will improve the quality of life of the people and satisfy their basic needs. In the face of all the hardship that the people their face currently, the Senegalese are still a happy population, with song and dance being a huge part of their cultural lives. With a better quality of life, this happiness and zest for life will increase. For this vision to become a reality, we will need the help of all the stakeholders, including the Government of Senegal. Policy changes that can help spread the word about the vision and secure funding for it will be required. We also need to be aware of the effects of climate change that can result in the wells, our primary source of water, drying up and come up with solutions that conserve the aquifers replenishing the wells.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

CREATE!s  vision for a nourishing food future is to promote a "real green revolution" in rural Senegal and other similar regions in Africa with the final results being sustainable food and energy self-sufficiency, a significant contribution to environmental conservation, a better quality of life based on the satisfaction of basic needs, stimulation of the rural economy, and finally, the promotion of cultural life in rural Africa.  The main principles that guide us on this vision are the use of renewable and appropriate technology to sustainably develop self-sufficient rural communities. Our participatory model helps communities improve their food security, health and wellbeing while empowering our women beneficiaries by teaching them skills and techniques to take charge of their economic future.

The major challenge that the rural communities in Senegal face is the climatic environment that has decreased their access to water for cultivation purposes. While the majority of the population rely on agriculture as a prime mode of livelihood, the food growing period has been limited to a couple of months during the annual rainy season. This has resulted in a concentration on cash crop cultivation as most countries view cash crops as a way out of poverty. This has caused the population to be undernourished since buying fresh nutritious food daily is expensive for most of the rural population. The need to grow their own food and to improve year-round food security in rural Senegal is thus enormous.

CREATE!s vision is to transform the way rural Senegal perceives food cultivation from growing cash crops during the short rainy season to sustainably growing nutritious food for consumption and sale year round.  Since initiating activities in 2010, CREATE! has partnered with 17 rural communities in Fatick, Kaolack and Louga Regions of Senegal where average annual rainfall ranges from 11 to 15 inches a year. With CREATE!s support, the communities are using climate-smart techniques to improve their perennial water access, starting with the use of solar powered pumping systems. Based on the Government of Senegal’s hydrologic surveys, existing deep wells with an aquifer replenished by annual rains are first rehabilitated in each community. Through the installation and use of submersible solar water pumps and solar panels, water is then pumped out from the wells. Using renewable solar energy, these pumps provide thousands of gallons of water each day. This water, through a gravity fed irrigation system that we build, irrigates a garden site where the communities grow nutritious vegetables year-round for the first time in the middle of the desert, improving their food security and nutritional outcomes. CREATE!s technicians train the community members in sustainable, organic and culturally appropriate agricultural practices that includes growing seasonal and market appropriate crops, better watering and composting techniques and diversity in food production. The communities are also trained on cultivation of drought resistant but nutritionally rich crops like maize. The training keeps in mind the culturally appropriate diets in these communities. They thus grow a variety of vegetables like tomatoes, carrots, eggplants and onions that are used in a Senegalese staple dish called Ceebu Jen. CREATE! is also planning to train community members to produce Vitamin A rich sweet potatoes and improved varieties of maize that would improve household nutrition.

With training on sustainable agricultural practices, CREATE!s active partner communities produced nearly 20 tons of nutritious fruits and vegetables of different varieties in 2019. This led to improved health and nutrition with the communities now able to consume their own fresh produce daily. 97% of the women in the communities achieved Minimum Dietary Diversity (MDD-W), a verifiable nutritional indicator. CREATE! also helps communities earn income through sale of their excess produce in the local markets and envisions reinforcing the Government of Senegal’s Emerging Senegal plan by helping small scale farmers in our partner communities connect with large exporters of fruits and vegetables in order to improve their income generation capacities. For this to happen, Government policy needs to strengthen the structure of the value chains that poses barriers for small-scale farmers from participating in the larger global market. Together with policy change, there also needs to be improved access to food preservation technologies. Since CREATE! supports renewable energy, in the future, we would like to harness solar energy to help refrigerate, store and transfer food better to give our farmers a greater chance to access global markets.

Together with vegetables, CREATE! communities also learn to raise poultry both to enrich their diet and to earn income. Poultry is an integral part of Senegalese diet, popular during religious and cultural festivals like Tabaski. The CREATE! communities that engage in poultry raising sell chickens for profits during these festivals. The incomes that the communities earn through such sale of vegetables and poultry help to not only ensure a stable and sustainable livelihood for them, but also a worry-free future with opportunities to save. Beneficiaries in CREATE! partner communities saved $20-$25 in 2019 through these activities. Most of CREATE!s beneficiaries are the women in the rural communities who usually do not migrate in search of economic opportunities but stay back to take care of their families. Many of these women had never worked before CREATE!. Our programs teach these women, many without any formal education, to process new knowledge and apply that to challenges faced. They “learn how to learn”. It also teaches the women the skill to become economically self-sufficient and independent while fostering in them leadership qualities. With this training, women are able to lead agricultural cooperative groups and their Voluntary Savings and Lending Associations. Serving in such leadership roles, often for the first time, makes them feel empowered. In the community of Mboss for example, women like Rokhaya Sene, the cooperative secretary, have embraced this leadership position and the confidence it gives her in her own ability. She is confident that with the training received, she will be able to manage her own garden in a few years. The income that the women earn also empowers them by making them economically independent. They are now equal partners in maintaining their household and has control over their own destinies.

While CREATE!s vision is already showing results in many rural Senegalese communities, its feasibility to expand to the whole country depends on partnerships with the Government of Senegal and other stakeholders in this journey. Many departments of the Government are already aware of and recognize CREATE!s work. The Department of Water and Forestry for example regularly helps CREATE! with the annual reforestation campaign when communities plant nearly 20000 tree saplings. In 2019, the Governor of the Fatick region in Senegal awarded CREATE! a diploma of recognition for our reforestation program during the Journée de L’arbre celebration. As CREATE! Country Director, Omar Ndiaye Seck states, CREATE!s reforestation efforts assist in recovering devastated parts of the globe through which we hope to leave a better world for our children. CREATE! also hopes to connect with the Governments’ Plan for Sustainable Reforestation of the National Territory to usher in a “green” revolution in Senegal.  CREATE!s program to build oases in the desert has garnered attention among other non-profits and international foundations doing similar work. Our work was recently presented at an international conference called “Cracking the Nut”, a conference that focused on “tough nut” topics with the world’s leading experts in rural development, sustainable agriculture, water sanitation, health, and nutrition, including representatives from the private sector, governments, donors and development practitioners. The focus of the 2019 conference was balancing public concerns for food security with private, market-based solutions. CREATE!s team members met many other people in the same field of intervention who are also concerned about issues related to food security, climate change, and the challenges of rural communities. These people showed keen interest in what CREATE! is achieving in rural Senegal.

CREATE!s vision of ushering in a “real green revolution” in rural Senegal does not only stem from the obvious need for food security in the region but is also based on the concept of community well-being as defined by the communities themselves. We believe it is important to know what constitutes personal and community well-being and in order to understand that, we listen to the people and conduct a process that leads to a consensus on what well-being means to them. CREATE! Country Director, Omar Ndiaye Seck describes, “Interventions that are based on a project approach and focus on what is missing instead of the strengths and capacities of communities often may fail. Approaches to well-being, as defined by the people themselves, show that sustainable results are possible if we take into account how all individuals and challenges are related and influence each other.” This idea is core to our participatory approach where we encourage a sense of long-term ownership and responsibility among our partner community members rather than any short-term dependency on hand outs. CREATE! is also working on developing Community Management Committees that will manage village activities and identify relevant issues, find solutions, and follow up on decisions.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website

Attachments (1)

CREATE!'s Theory of Change Flow Chart.png

CREATE!s Theory of Change demonstrates our mission and how we work to achieve that.

7 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Village Development  Center (VDC)
Team

Hi, I want to create a network with you.
Email;- vdcrangpur@gmail.com

Photo of Paulomi Bhattacharyya
Team

Yes, we would like to connect with you too. It looks like we do similar work, but in different countries. You can email me at paulomi@createaction.org

View all comments