Empowering Women Farmers in Senegal
From Poverty to Empowerment: Women Cultivate and Process Organic Hibiscus
Hibiscus (or bissap, as it is called in Senegal) is a valuable and versatile crop whose brightly coloured, star-shaped flowers are prized for their tart flavor, and can be made into a long list of by-products. Hibiscus jellies, jams, fruit pastes, traditional medicines, teas, syrups and refreshing drinks can be found in almost every market stall in West Africa. These beautiful flowers have a high concentration of vitamin C and have been proven to medically reduce high blood pressure.
This blood-red flower presented The Hunger Project-Senegal with a unique opportunity – one that could unleash the power of rural women farmers living on less than 80 pence ($1.25) a day. By farming hibiscus flowers, they merged three primary goals: promoting environmental stability, empowering women and using microfinance (small loans) to create new and sustainable sources of income. This project, known as “Bio Bissap” (organic hibiscus) has produced stunning results.
The Hunger Project-Senegal introduced the Bio Bissap project into their action plan, experimenting with the income-producing possibilities of hibiscus cultivation. Two women’s groups in the villages of Ndiolofféne and Ndour Ndour were chosen to pilot the project. Approximately 120 women were initially involved, and each of the two groups subsequently cultivated one to two hectares of the hibiscus plant.
The experiment aimed to allow the women to increase their incomes, strengthen their financial stability through diversification, and promote their own independence by gaining access to land.
The experiment was implemented in phases. In order to garner community support, Vision, Commitment and Action Workshops (VCAWs) were held to sensitise the groups of women about the possible benefits of bissap cultivation.
The second phase brought on two agricultural specialists from USAD for technical support to ensure use of the best agricultural methods. The specialists trained the women on effective cultivation methods, such as choosing appropriate soil types, selecting the best varieties of bissap and preparing the land. Additional training took place regarding the best practices for harvesting and sorting the bissap, as well as the proper post-harvest drying and preservation techniques.
Initial results from the first cycles of the experiment were encouraging. The groups sought net profits of at least 500,000 FCFA (US$1,017). The bissap was profitable enough to allow The Hunger Project-Senegal to scale up the project to its current size, which now includes 12 villages, with a total membership of 563 women. These women now plough and maintain a combined total of 21 hectares.
The project has been successful enough to gain national attention. The Senegalese Agence de Presse interviewed Idrissa Ba, Programme Officer for The Hunger Project-Senegal, regarding the project’s progress. In the article Ba explains the importance of empowering women as an essential part of all programmes and emphasises the Bio-Bissap project’s empowerment of women not only through additional income, but also through land control, a privilege which they previously did not enjoy.
Motivated by their successes, these women hope to expand their membership participation and land ownership in the coming years.
Empowering Women, Creating Entrepreneurs
The Hunger Project’s Microfinance Programme is a training, savings and credit programme that addresses a critical missing link for the end of hunger in Africa: the economic empowerment of the most important but least supported food producers on the continent – Africa’s women.
Since the inception of the Microfinance Programme in 1999, THP has grown the loan portfolio to approximately £1.8 million across Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Senegal and Uganda. By the end of 2011,45,000 partners had saved a total of £1.6 million! Perhaps most importantly, 28 Rural Banks have graduated to operate as their own independent, community-owned and women-led rural financial institutions. Read More