Wednesday, 27 January 2016

From St. Paul to Senegal: The Reality of Food Security

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After I had the privilege of interning with CTI last summer, I spent the 2015 fall semester studying international development in Senegal—where CTI's work has a profound impact. I saw this firsthand when I lived in Tattaguine, a small village 100 km southeast of Senegal's capital, Dakar.

In Tattaguine, the day's work began before sunrise, preparing livestock for pasture and breakfast for the family. Later, the women would begin preparation for the family's lunch and dinner—pounding several stalks of millet using the traditional mortar and pestle. The women would occasionally pause to sift through the grains. After meals, they cracked bowl after bowl of the family's peanut crop by hand.

Millet and peanuts are just two of the many crops grown by smallholding farmers in the region. Many families have their own small farms where they grow sorghum, beans, maize, and sometimes peppers and watermelons. My host family, the Ngom's, do the same: they rely on their crops for food and sell what is left.

Despite growing their own food, the Ngom's remain food insecure. This means that the family of 15 lacks nutritious choices, sometimes going without a meal. I spent my summer internship with CTI researching this phenomenon. At its core, hunger is often an economic problem where supply and demand interact—or in this case, fail to act—to provide enough nutritious food to all people. The supply side argument holds that production fails to meet the food needs of populations. The demand side argument claims the opposite: the failure to get enough food comes from high prices or inaccessibility at the market and a lack of income.

This has real consequences. To provide even an insufficient amount of food for her family, my host mother spent her entire afternoon preparing couscous for dinner. My host sisters would help out as well, sometimes needing to put off their homework to pound the millet. To have enough money for food, clothing, and other expenses, my host sisters' husbands worked miles away from home. They are only able to visit once per month at most.

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A related phenomenon is the mechanization of agriculture, which is any process by which food production and processing is done with the help of machines. Mechanization lessens workloads, boosts productivity, and permits faster, higher-quality, and larger-scale production and processing. More food is produced and kept out of harm's way, which increases supply. Sales from this increased supply, and improved capacity to sell throughout the year, increase incomes to bolster the demand side. Further, spillover effects of mechanization include decreasing rates of fertility and child labor, increasing market integration, employment, and resources and power for women.

This is what CTI does in Senegal. They are tackling hunger, one thresher at a time. Obstacles persist due to the remoteness of some communities, lack of education and knowledge, and the issue of financing so many machines (for CTI) and buying them (for some farmers), but the CTI model escapes some common pitfalls. For one thing, its manual machines are cheaper for farmers than other larger, bulkier options and forgo the use of expensive and unsustainable fossil fuels.

CTI hopes to extend its work with extension agencies like SAPPAT, my host organization in Tattaguine, to further the impact of its program in Senegal and eliminate hunger among Senegalese families. I am privileged first to have worked for two incredible organizations on two continents and second to connect both my experiences and the organizations' work in such tangible ways. Much work remains, but progress is surely being made, from the offices of St. Paul to the millet fields of the Sahel.

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Noah Nieting studies economics, African studies, and international development at Macalester College where he also runs the student-led international development group. He can be contacted at nnieting@macalester.edu.

 

 

 

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