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Senegal’s only rainy season from June to October is highly variable in length and intensity. In addition to this, poor soils and growing land degradation means Senegalese smallholder farmers struggle to be productive and make a living. Some of ICRISAT’s research priorities in Senegal include how to improve resilience, tackle gender inequity in agriculture and scale up innovations and improved practices such as dual purpose sorghum or better pest (eg. Striga) management.

27% - Percentage of children under five in Senegal being stunted

75% - Share of national workforce engaged in agriculture in Senegal

114 out of 146 - Senegal's rank in terms of gender inequity (OCDE)

1/3 - Share of millet fields planted to improved varieties in Senegal (IFPRI)


General context

Much of Senegal, a stable country in West Africa, lies within the drought-prone Sahel where rainfall is irregular and soils are of poor quality. Senegal’s food security relies on rainfed agriculture, highly vulnerable to climatic variations and food price volatility. It is a net food importer and second largest importer of rice in Africa. Agriculture employs around 75% of the working population and comprises 13% of GDP. Groundnuts (40% of cultivated land) and cotton (33%) are the main export commodities while millet, maize, sorghum and rice are the main staple crops, grown by a majority of resource-poor smallholder farmers.

Until recently most government subsidies and agricultural extension services were directed at groundnut production. Decreasing yields due to environmental degradation, fluctuating world prices and inability to comply with higher food standards (such as aflatoxin-free produce) have encouraged attempts to increase domestic production of staple food crops such as maize, millet and sorghum, through the Great Agricultural Offensive for Food and Abundance (GOANA), an agriculture strategy launched in 2009.

Although Senegal has one of the lowest under-nutrition rates in West Africa, there is a persistent, moderate  under-nutrition where anemia and hidden hunger of protein and micronutrient deficiencies feature prominently. Twenty-seven percent of children under five in Senegal are stunted.

ICRISAT research in the country

ICRISAT works closely with Senegalese agricultural research and development institutions, in particular with the Institut Sénégalais de Recherche Agricole (ISRA) and the Centre régional pour l’amélioration de l’adaptation à la sécheresse (CERAAS), to improve the resilience and food and nutritional security of dryland farming families. The following initiatives are of particular interest:

Groundnut has been the main agricultural commodity exported for years, concentrated in the so-called Peanut Basin. Global competition and the need for compliance with international standards, as well as unsustainable farming practices have weakened the status of groundnut farmers; yet this legume crop remains key for the food security and livelihoods of many Senegalese families. For years, ICRISAT has been engaged in developing and disseminating improved varieties to enhance low yields. One promising solution has been the incorporation of resistance traits of foliar disease from wild groundnut relatives into popular local varieties such as Fleur 11 [ref: Pandey and al; Tropical Legumes II. Foliar diseases – rust, rosette, early leaf spot (ELS) and late leaf spot (LLS) – cause important yield losses every year. 

Millets, in particular pearl millet and sorghum are very important staple cereals in Senegal.  Over 1 million ha, more than 10% of agricultural land, were planted to millets in 2010. These cereals are quite resilient to the dry conditions and low phosphorus sandy soils of the Sahel but there is a great genetic variation. Pearl millet breeders are working on cultivars better adapted to drought, looking, for instance, at shorter duration millets or the tillering ability. Better crop cultivation practices such as integrated Striga management and soil fertility management are helping increase sorghum and millet production.

About a third of pearl millet fields are planted to improved cultivars (IFPRI). Poor access to improved seeds of key dryland cereals and legumes is a major constraint for Senegalese small farmers, explaining the low average yields (less than 800 kg/ha for millets in 2012). Efforts are on to improve the structure of the West Africa seed sector, to build fruitful partnerships and improve seed policies. Research and farmers’ organizations have been trained in certified seed production and variety testing.

Gender inequality is significant in Senegal (ranked 114 out of 146, source OCDE). Early age marriage, skewed inheritance, and limited access to assets and incomes make women particularly vulnerable. Agricultural research tries to understand their constraints and what could be the drivers of change. For instance, a recent study highlighted that women are more vulnerable to climate risks like shorter rainy seasons due to the traditional Senegalese custom that men first plant for themselves right after the first rains in early June, then they plant for their wives about a month later.

Along with annual climate variability, ICRISAT is also investigating the impact of climate change on small farmers. Under the AGMIP program, crop modeling is tested for maize, peanut, pearl millet and sorghum and local climate projections have helped design climate advisory services for farmers in Kaffrine and Nioro regions.

In the coming years, strategic partnerships with Senegalese research institutions will continue to flourish under the CGIAR Research Programs. For instance, CERAAS is the coordinator of sorghum West Africa (Product Line 1) for the CRP Dryland Cereals.

Key documents on Senegal

Legumes like groundnut are part of the daily meals, providing essential proteins for child development.