Cooking Up New Ways to Strengthening Women’s Groups in Eastern Senegal
Eric M. Washington
As we end the day of celebrating International Women’s Day, we are reminded of the countless women worldwide who work tirelessly to support their families, improve their communities, and build more equitable societies. In rural areas of many developing countries, women face numerous challenges in accessing education, resources, and economic opportunities. However, they are often the driving force behind innovative solutions to these challenges, working together to create positive change. One example is the women of the Bakel Horticulture Producers Union in Eastern Senegal, who are collaborating to improve their postharvest processing techniques and expand their market reach. With the help of the West Africa Farmer-to-Farmer program and volunteer Pamela Karg, these women are transforming their harvests into high-quality products that are attracting local and international attention. Their story is a powerful reminder of women’s resilience, creativity, and potential of women worldwide and a testament to the importance of investing in women’s success. Read more about their story below.
In the Senegalese language Pulaar, “Debbo Galle” means a group of women who work together to improve their homes and their communities by raising incomes and expanding women’s access to business. The Bakel Horticulture Producers Union (BAKHPU) draw members from local Debbo Galle to make positive changes in their small community in Eastern Senegal, near the border with Mauritania. A remote location distant from major markets, BAKHPU and its women members were struggling with postharvest losses due to the inability to process fruits and vegetables and thereby increase their shelf life. BAKHPU members were producing 30 tons of vegetables, peppers, onions, and sweet potatoes, but would lose over 30% of the harvest due to poor processing and preserving techniques.
Seeking a new way to do business, the women sought help from American expert, Pamela Karg, through the West Africa Farmer-to-Farmer program in Senegal. Karg traveled to Senegal in February 2020 to train women fruit and vegetable producers how to best process their products while ensuring flavor, durability, and maintaining food safety. Karg worked hand-in-hand with local members of BAKHPU to demonstrate techniques such as sun drying, development of jams and jellies, and creation of new product lines for the market.Aita Ndao, secretary of a Debbo Galle, reflected on the impact of the training by discussing the group’s plan to develop new and unique products: “‘We continue to see spice advertising on TV and almost every week with a new product, but we are not interested anymore.’ We have learned to make our own spices for our families and our communities.’’ Now their plan, with the help of the Union, is to work with the local agriculture services to find the means to scale up and expand their business. Following Pamela Karg’s training with BAKHPU members, participants are sharing lessons learned throughout their cooperative. Women in Eastern Senegal are learning from one another, growing their businesses, and building stronger communities.