The voices of AVENIR: What we learned from women and youth producers in Senegal

Above: Ibrahima Fall Mane, President, Board of Directors, SCOOP-AFMDG

Last month, MEDA hosted the first Agricultural Value Chains Fair in Senegal. From February 25th to 27th, 2023, it worked with the Biodiversity & CIAT Alliance and the Adaption et Valorisation Entrepreneueuriales en Irrigation (et Agriculture) Rurales (AVENIR) project’s implementing partners.

The goal of the fair was to provide opportunities for business partnerships, exchanges, and networking between the various partners and clients of the AVENIR project. Specifically, the objectives of the agricultural value chains fair were to promote the results achieved by the project and create networking links between clients and partners and provide a framework for exchanges and networking between suppliers, producer networks, and clients. Lastly, the fair sought to provide support for the exhibition of the various value chain products promoted by MEDA through the clients in the framework of the partnership with the key facilitating partners.

Here’s what we learned from this engaging event:

The fair drew producers from diverse value chains in Senegal

The three-day fair displayed agricultural products made by women and youth clients of the AVENIR project, involved in the processing of agroforestry products from the four intervention departments. In addition, technologies and agricultural input suppliers, the financial service provider Caurie-MF, a MEDA partner in the implementation of the AVENIR project, as well as CIAT’s partners (Jokalanté from Dakar, ANCAR, ISRA-CRAT and CARITAS from Tambacounda) also attended. This event also provided networking opportunities for market actors in the rice, cashew, mango, baobab, and horticultural value chains of the Tambacounda and Sédhiou regions. The public was invited to view and purchase the products in Tambacounda.

Producers pivoted during COVID-19 – and prevailed

The panel discussion described how COVID-19 affected the marketing situation and highlighted the obstacles and some enablers of marketing intermediaries. In the past, some small producers of agricultural products relied on highly mobile intermediaries. The intermediaries, often called ‘Bana Bana’ had a regular schedule to which the producers were organized towards being ready with their produce on a particular day of the week. Some other producers were part of an aggregation initiative by an enterprise in Ziguinchor, that had begun aggregating mango. However, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the intermediaries’ schedules and the business initiative of aggregation. Thus, the small producers were required to pivot and adapt their marketing to ensure their produce was sold. The small producers were able to put their produce together and sell it at a better price.

“Our cooperative was under contract with the startup CASAMANGO for the marketing of our mango production. This contractualization was beneficial for us because we had better selling prices per kilogram compared to the price offered by some intermediaries commonly called “Bana-Bana”. However, with the arrival of COVID-19, these partnerships could not be maintained and the producers were left to their own devices, each looking for their own ways to sell their production. It is in this context that MEDA arrived through the AVENIR project and accompanied us in the aggregation of our products. It is true that a large part of the members of the cooperative were reluctant but for those who tried the experience of this group sale it was a real success.”

– SCOOP/AFMDG cooperative member

Marketing was on the minds of the participants

A highlight of the fair was the exchange and discussion of group marketing of agricultural products held on February 26th. This theme saw the active participation of youth clients (young women and young men) and women working in agricultural value chains supported by the AVENIR project. Producers of goods were preoccupied with marketing concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their positive experience of aggregating their produce at the community level is something they want to explore and continue.

Two panelists who worked in the mango and cashew product value chains shared their experiences of group marketing. They said they experienced difficulties aggregating products and securing access to the market. They were working to aggregate from the members of the cooperative and commercialize their produce as a group. The difficulties of rural producers and the need to aggregate their produce at a central place for marketing was also covered.

But the debates were also wide-ranging too

The debates were very lively, with many questions and contributions from women and young people. The topics included standards and quality of agricultural products (labeling, FRA authorization, bar codes), low production volumes at the individual level, and lack of storage infrastructure (cold room, store). Other topics that were covered included the quality of packaging and labels, difficulties in accessing finance, and a lack of specialization and business partnerships between actors.

Women and youth producers shared their unique concerns

Woman and young producers discussed the many challenges they faced in their different agricultural value chains. Their panel discussions focused on:

  • The low level of access to production factors (agricultural equipment and inputs, irrigation systems, and land)
  • Limited access to agricultural financing
  • The lack of technical training to ensure compliance with product quality and commercial standards
  • Limited access to training in business management and financial education
  • Low sales and marketing capacity to improve product presentation and facilitate penetration of more profitable markets

Women and youth clients asked the AVENIR project to work to remove these constraints and improve the environment of the supported value chains. The issue of access to finance was raised several times by the women and youth participants, but the intervention of one of the participants in the panel did not fail to leave its mark.

“We should not wait for someone to come and give us everything in terms of financing, we, women, have a self-financing capacity that we do not have. We must see things differently and develop a business mentality in our groups by setting up good strategic plans before implementing our activities. When we have difficulty in selling our products, let us organize ourselves to be the first market for our products by promoting local consumption in our homes.”

– Jeanne Marie, a woman producer AVENIR client in Tambacounda

AVENIR is a core part of MEDA’s work

AVENIR is a seven-year Global Affairs Canada (GAC) funded project that MEDA is implementing in Tambacounda and Sedhiou, two districts of Southern Senegal. Through the AVENIR project, MEDA is working with market actors to ensure that their employment opportunities, products, and services are inclusive, accessible, and useful to women and young women/men clients while supporting them to overcome capacity constraints that may limit their access and use.

AVENIR also supports diverse women and young women/men clients to strengthen their agency and control over resources and benefits while strengthening the capacity of market actors to advance the rights, dignity, and leadership of clients. Finally, AVENIR engages with local strategic partners, market actors, and key influencers to foster fair and equitable relationships between clients and their socioeconomic and political environment.

AVENIR is another example of how MEDA is creating decent work for young people and women in the Global South. By effectively harnessing local partnerships, it is supporting the organization to fulfill its long-term strategic goal of creating or sustaining 500,000 jobs by 2030 and doing its part to fulfill the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

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