Fruitful business opportunities
Trees in Senegal bear oranges and bananas, but also less familiar fruits such as madd and baobab, which are rarely seen in UK shops. Two years ago, Traidcraft Exchange started work with low-income Senegalese fruit farmers and collectors to look at how they could organise their businesses, sell their exotic fruits and begin to turn a healthy profit. Alistair Leadbetter visited the project in early 2018, and reflects on the challenges of the project and the steps that need to be taken to link producers with markets.
Traidcraft Exchange is working in the area near Ziguinchor, a major town in the Casamance region of southern Senegal with people engaged in the growing and collecting fruits common in Senegal: baobab, ditakh and madd. This covers farmers who own fruit trees as well as collectors, who gather fruits in the wild from communal forests.
We are lucky to be working with great Senegalese partners in Zena Exotic Fruits and Baobab des Saveurs, who focus on building the farming and processing expertise of farmers, whilst what Traidcraft brings is expertise in supporting producers to find the best markets and the best price for their produce.
Although this is the first time that we have worked in Senegal, this project contains challenges that are familiar to small-scale producers around the world seeking to grow their businesses and market their produce on a wider basis.
Strength in numbers
For small-scale farmers, whatever they are growing, there is real strength in numbers. Working cooperatively makes a big difference when marketing produce to buyers and Traidcraft Exchange encourages the formation of producer organisations. Our approach to this was introduced in a previous blog, and we have scaled up significantly since then - working with 2,200 farmers and fruit collectors. These are now organised into 44 groups, around half of which have already become officially registered.
Moving and storing produce
One challenge for both farmers, collectors and buyers is that the producers live and work in villages which are scattered across the region. This presents a challenge for transporting the fruit to market. To help the farmers work more collaboratively and to support them in delivering quality fruit, the project is building two collection centres. This will enable improved product grading, quality control and product storage – meaning that the fruit will command a higher price. The main collection centre has now been established and we have just received an allocation of land from the local mayor where we can build the second collection centre. The farmers and collectors are now looking at how they can buy a small truck to collect the produce from the various villages.
Another infrastructure issue concerns the harvesting of the fruit itself. At the moment, many of the fruits are collected by hand and this means that people have to climb these enormous trees: this is slow and highly dangerous. The project is supporting the development of a tool which will make the harvesting safer, quicker and cheaper. Once a satisfactory prototype has been developed, we will then make enough to send to each village.
We have been thrilled to see the high degree of involvement of women farmers, who make up 59% of the group membership (significantly above our initial target of 40%). A recent visit to a group in the village of Ouniock gave us a sense of the dynamic and entrepreneurial approach that they are bringing to business. Already, they have invested jointly to build a large communal garden to grow onions, tomatoes and cucumbers. The women of Ouniock have also learned the skills to manufacture soap, preserve fruit, and make syrups and fruit juices, and will soon receive training on how to access markets.
Farmers have also seen the value of beginning small plant nurseries. This means they can save on buying seedlings, whilst also selling saplings as an extra source of income. Toumané Sané (pictured at the top of this article) has begun his own nursery: “I graft on a twig from an older fruit tree onto the young sapling and I am able to start harvesting fruit after a couple of years, this is maybe two or three times faster than if I don’t do the grafting. We have so much land here and so many trees. In a way our problem is that there are not enough people here to do the harvesting.”
Finding markets further afield
The next step is to link these dynamic farmers with high-quality export opportunities, and we are aiming to establish a commercial partnership in the UK to develop and launch a range of drinks using these fruits. Linked to this, we are also keen to support these producers through the Fairtrade certification process. It would be fantastic if everyone had the chance to taste the fantastic fruits of Senegal.
Alistair Leadbetter is Traidcraft’s Supply Chain Development and Business Support Manager.
Between 12th January and 11th April, all donations to the Hidden Entrepreneur appeal will be matched pound for pound, thanks to the generosity of the UK Government.
Money raised as part of the appeal will support Traidcraft Exchange’s work with budding entrepreneurs in Kenya, Bangladesh and Senegal.
To learn more and donate to the appeal, go to www.traidcraft.org.uk/hidden, or call us on 0191 497 6445.