It was with some trepidation that Aïssata Ba approached the onion season at the start of this year. The previous few months had seen a lifting of government restrictions, but by mid-January, following a new surge in Covid-19 cases, a curfew was imposed in the regions of Thiès and Dakar. Anxiety was rife amongst the Senegalese population as a whole and Aissata had to contend with yet more obstacles to running her business.
The winter onion season had promised to be a good one for farmers in Lompoul. The government of Senegal had taken protective measures to support local producers and banned the import of onions. Therefore, local farmers had high expectations for good returns, and some ‘early birds’ planted the nurseries ahead of the others, so they could be the first to offer their produce to the market and snatch the best price. Aïssata had been more cautious, delaying setting up her nurseries for fear that the unusually heavy rains seen over the autumn could destroy them. After all that had happened during the previous few months, this was not a risk she was prepared to take.
When Aïssata harvested her crop in March, her 1,500 kg of high-quality onions would normally have fetched USD 975-USD 1,110, but she was offered a much lower price at the local market price. With her wholesaler in Dakar still out of reach and having entered the market late, Aïssata had to settle for a quick transaction with a local trader rather than waste the crop. Unfortunately, she was only able to get USD 550, roughly half her typical price.
Her second harvest, two weeks later, was even more plentiful, yielding 2,250 Kg of onions that she sold locally for USD 832. Given the turbulence of the times, Aïssata made her peace with achieving a lower profit. A seasonal turnover of USD 1,400 is still sufficient to meet her operational costs: the wages of her farm labourer as well as the cost of seeds, phytosanitary products and fertiliser. As a widow, she is particularly glad she is able to continue to support her family through her market gardening. Even though reduced by the pandemic, her farming income still allows her to meet school fees for her older son who lives and studies in Thiès and her two younger children still in primary school.
Aissata credits ongoing support from Energy 4 Impact as a key factor in helping her weather this difficult period. She says: “If I’m able to run a successful business and meet my family’s needs without relying on anyone, it is thanks to the solar equipment which has significantly reduced my operational costs. But I’d also like to acknowledge the business and agronomic advice and support I receive from Energy 4 Impact.”
Aissata is now preparing to grow cabbage in her field on the recommendation of her agronomist mentor from Energy 4 Impact. Farmers cannot control the market price but they can be shrewd and choose the right crops to grow at the right time to secure higher profits. Mbaye Dièye comments: “Producing cabbage will be more profitable during the rainy season as the price of a bag of cabbage increases significantly.” On the advice of her mentor, Aïssata is investing in organic fertiliser to revitalise the soil of her 0.15 ha field before she can plant again.
This story has been developed by our partner Energy 4 Impact as part of our Women’s Economic Empowerment Program.