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The look of growth: green blades of rice

December 9, 2014


I’ve been traveling regularly to the Ngalenka area for four years now, starting in 2010 when the Senegal Compact entered into force and the first design and engineering studies of our irrigation and water management project began. But this time it was different.

In 2010, the soil at Ngalenka was brown and dry; local farmers eked out crops in small plots poised among the scrub brush, watering them with buckets carried laboriously from the Ngalenka Estuary of the Senegal River again and again – work that often fell to the women and girls to do. But over that time, design studies became finalized plans, plans became contracts, and the contracts led to a steady flow of workers, equipment and professionals that made the plans into reality. So imagine my joy and pride this time as we drove out into the center of the Ngalenka irrigated perimeter to see for the first time that the whole site was green with rice!

We lined up on the embankment by the inflow pumping station as President Macky Sall’s convoy arrived. The evening air was finally cool, and the people of Ngalenka and Podor had turned out en masse, dressed in their finest, to celebrate the completed project. Construction of the 1,112-acre system was finished earlier this year, and the farmers had been settled onto their allocated plots and begun farming. 

Furthermore, the construction was matched by an ambitious, $4.1 million land tenure program that codified existing occupants’ rights and ensured they would be the ones to benefit from the newly improved lands. That four-year consensual process wasn’t easy, but it led to full agreement on how the land would be shared and managed as well as a community-led decision to attribute 10 percent of the land to women’s groups. It ensured fairness and equity of access to land across multiple family lineages and ethnicities. But despite the difficulty, anyone would agree it was worth it! 

Much of northern Senegal experienced a drought in 2014. The surrounding countryside looked parched to me, but the fields of Ngalenka were thick with green blades of rice. And they’ll stay that way through rainy seasons and dry seasons for many years to come.

President Sall threw a lever, and water began to pour from the pump’s gates and flow through the network of canals that nourishes the fields as the people applauded. I thought back to the early days, when  MCC’s investments were being chosen and prioritized. Tests had shown the land was fertile and could be used to grow rice – Senegal’s staple crop and the basis of any Senegalese traditional meal – if enough water could be brought onto the fields  for irrigation. In fact, the lowland of Ngalenka was just one of five sites identified and studied. Now that Ngalenka has been built and is fully functional, the remaining sites can be easily  developed by the Senegalese government and  other partners. 

Ngalenka is just a small part of a much larger investment in irrigation systems in Senegal’s northern Delta breadbasket. As the water began to seep through the roots of all that rice, it was easy to be excited about just what the $170 million investment in both the Delta and Ngalenka mean: the impact it could have on the estimated 1.2 million beneficiaries who look forward to a meal of warm rice every evening with their families and for whom this project aims to increase food security and open new opportunities to participate in Senegal’s rural economy and reduce poverty.